COUP DE CHANCE
TWO AND A HALF STARS A woman has an affair with an aspiring writer. Her husband is less than enthralled.
COMEDY DRAMA FRANCE French #COUPDECHANCE
Starring Lou de Laâge, Neils Schneider
To say this is Woody Allen’s best film in a decade isn’t saying all that much. His star has been on the wane for so long now it’s hard to remember just how anticipated his annual outings were in the late 80’s and 90’s. Then suddenly they weren’t, although hits like 2013’s BLUE JASMINE recalled those heady days while duds like WONDER WHEEL and IRRATIONAL MAN reinforced that Allen’s well was running dry. Now 87 and under sustained pressure for questionable behaviour (cleared of charges, twice), it’s some surprise to learn that A) he’s not been completely cancelled and B) COUP DE CHANCE is half ok. Maybe more than half.
This, his fiftieth film, doesn’t wander far from his well established formula although the production does. One of his rare ‘travelogue’ movies COUP DE CHANCE is set in Paris and moreover, filmed in French. Allen didn’t cast superstars although French staple Melvil Poupard is on hand to guide proceedings and does so with Gallic style. Adding a little frisson is the way the story slips from a yet another comedy of manners into something much, much darker while making some observations about the role of fate, or luck, in life.
Fanny (Lou de Laâge) is married to the domineering, self-made and incredibly wealthy Jean (Poupard). When she literally walks into old class mate, the persistent, puppyish Alain (Neils Schneider), the pair hit it off. Romance blossoms and an affair quickly follows. Jean suspects infidelity and hires a detective, thus taking the narrative into murkier territory. The development is heightened by Fanny’s visiting mother who, a fan of Jean, suspects his golden boy shine has tarnished and warns her daughter, thus imperilling both of them.
All of which could be vintage Allen if it wasn’t for the clunky tonal shifts and crunching gear changes between scenes if not mid-scene or mid-sentence. Although Allen’s not working in his native tongue, these problems aren't found in lost translation issues, they’re found in the script. Yet again there’s the feeling that we’re watching something he threw together somewhere between breakfast and lunch, something that’s been rescued from the pile of rejects and dusted off for contractual obligation.
Some scenes are terrific - witty, crisp, meaningful - while many others are ponderous when they’re not downright weird. Take any one of Alain’s effusive ‘I was always in love with you’ moments that are uncomfortable when they’re not creepy. And they go on and on. Why, like a normal person, Fanny doesn’t turn heel and lock the door to her mansion is never explained. Jean might be difficult, but Alain’s a stalker. Then there’s the easy racism of Jean’s Romanian thugs to filter out.
Still, if you can find a way to push these troubles into the background, the narrative payoff is weighty in an awkward ‘I’d like to laugh but know I shouldn’t’ kind of way. The cast are up to the challenge; Schneider has the requisite persistence-of-youth-out-of-his-depth while Poupard takes villain right up to the line without tipping into caricature. Vittorio Storaro’s appealing cinematography illuminates Parisian autumn both outdoors and in.
COUP DE CHANCE is not be Allen’s best work by any means, but it is among his best films in years. Whether by design or luck, well, that’s for him to say.