Hap­pi­ness Never Comes Alone Dead Man Down

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Evan Wil­liams

(Un Bon­heur n’ar­rive ja­mais seul) (M) ★★★ Limited re­lease

National re­lease

W(MA15+) ★★✩✩✩

✩ HEN Hol­ly­wood in­vented the screw­ball com­edy in the 1930s, the icons of French cin­ema were Jean Renoir and Rene Clair, mod­els of re­fine­ment and so­phis­ti­ca­tion. Then, in the hands of Jac­ques Becker and the inim­itable Jac­ques Tati, French cin­ema evolved a fresh comic style, a mix­ture of ro­mance and farce over­laid with a cer­tain Gal­lic melan­choly. But that, too, has changed. French main­stream com­edy to­day seems closer than ever to Hol­ly­wood norms and con­ven­tions. Fol­low­ing hard on Noemie Lvovsky’s Camille Rewinds, an un­ac­knowl­edged re­make of Peggy Sue Got Mar­ried (re­viewed re­cently by my col­league David Strat­ton), comes James Huth’s bois­ter­ous ro­man­tic romp, Hap­pi­ness Never Comes Alone, with its strong re­minders of Hol­ly­wood screw­ball classics.

Like the best films of the screw­ball era, Huth’s film is marked by much fast talk and re­lent­less en­ergy. It’s the story of a seem­ingly in­com­pat­i­ble cou­ple who are thrown to­gether by chance and fall in love against the odds. Hol­ly­wood’s best-known ver­sion, It Hap­pened One Night, starred Clark Gable and Claudette Col­bert. It’s my favourite com­edy of the 30s. Hap­pi­ness Never Comes Alone stars Gad El­maleh as Sacha, an ir­re­spon­si­ble young jazz mu­si­cian and com­pul­sive wom­an­iser, and So­phie Marceau as Char­lotte, a pro­fes­sional ca­reer woman with two ex-hus­bands and three young chil­dren. Can they make a go of it? Should they even try?

If this were a Hol­ly­wood film, re­view­ers would be solemnly lament­ing its cliched plot and pre­dictable out­comes. But the French, with their rep­u­ta­tion for sub­tlety, savoir faire and su­pe­rior dis­cern­ment in mat­ters of the heart, can make even the most dog-eared plot seemed fresh and cap­ti­vat­ing. It may have some­thing to do with the lan­guage. I last saw El­maleh in Pierre Sal­vadori’s delightful 2006 com­edy Price­less, in which he played a gullible ho­tel bar­tender who falls for Au­drey Tautou’s gold-dig­ging seductress. It was an­other story of in­com­pat­i­ble lovers, and El­maleh proved him­self adept at play­ing the charm­ing but de­luded fall guy. As Sacha he has vague am­bi­tions of writ­ing a Broad­way mu­si­cal. We know he has mu­si­cal tal­ent; he might one day be a re­spected com­poser if he weren’t frit­ter­ing away his life in idle plea­sures. When he meets Char­lotte — at a preview screen­ing of a TV com­mer­cial for which he has writ­ten the mu­sic (all five sec­onds of it) — he man­ages to of­fend the boss of the client firm (Fran­cois Ber­le­and), a rich ty­coon who turns out to be one of Char­lotte’s for­mer hus­bands. Se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions.

The com­edy has an odd knock­about flavour, with Char­lotte reg­u­larly fall­ing over or bump­ing into things; win­dows break and wash­basins crash to the floor for no ap­par­ent rea­son. Sacha in­hab­its a grotty room in Mont­martre plas­tered with old Hol­ly­wood movie posters while Char­lotte swans about in an ul­tra-trendy apart­ment where we no­tice, amid all the con­tem­po­rary art­work, posters for Casablanca and West Side Story al­ready glimpsed in Sacha’s quar­ters. There must be hope for th­ese two.

But the real bar to their hap­pi­ness is Sacha’s phobia of chil­dren. For Sacha, kids are in the same class as snakes and spi­ders (to use his own words). And when a small in­truder in­ter­rupts a love-mak­ing ses­sion with Char­lotte the game looks to be over. But as we know from many a Hol­ly­wood com­edy, guys with an aver­sion to kids are in­vari­ably won over by ju­ve­nile charms. Per­haps the best com­par­i­son here is with Bach­e­lor Mother, Gar­son Kanin’s 1939 screw­ball clas­sic in which Ginger Rogers plays the re­luc­tant mum, bravely shoul­der­ing ma­ter­nal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties while David Niven spurns the prospect of a ready-made fam­ily.

For all its gloss and sparkle, Hap­pi­ness Never Comes Alone is a thor­oughly con­ven­tional en­ter­tain­ment, much of it strained and im­prob­a­ble. But there is plenty to en­joy, not least the ref­er­ences to old Hol­ly­wood mu­si­cals and a sound­track sprin­kled with more 20th­cen­tury pop stan­dards than a Woody Allen movie. I’m not sure that El­maleh is re­ally play­ing the pi­ano in those jazz scenes but the ef­fect is con­vinc­ing. The chil­dren are an en­gag­ing lot, the per­for­mances never less than lik­able and Paris looks charm­ing, even in the rain. In the end, do we re­ally want Sacha to leave Paris and make the big time on Broad­way? We can’t be sure, and nei­ther can Sacha. In a coun­try that has re­cently le­galised same-sex mar­riage, Huth’s film proves to be a re­sound­ing cel­e­bra­tion of tra­di­tional fam­ily val­ues — a co­in­ci­dence of no sig­nif­i­cance what­ever, though I thought I’d men­tion it. DEAD Man Down is a Hol­ly­wood thriller from Dan­ish di­rec­tor Niels Ar­den Oplev, whose pre­vi­ous film was The Girl with the Dragon Tat­too: a sleek com­bi­na­tion of de­tec­tive story, neo-noir crime thriller and old-fash­ioned re­venge drama, re­lent­lessly grip­ping and beau­ti­fully made, and a mi­nor mas­ter­piece of its kind. I wish I could say as much for Dead Man Down — an­other re­venge drama, or rather, two re­venge dra­mas rolled into one. Both films in­clude graphic scenes of vi­o­lence, mur­der, tor­ture and degra­da­tion, and both gain some­thing from the pres­ence of Noomi Ra­pace, who played the punk com­puter hacker in The Girl with the Dragon Tat­too. But whereas The Girl with the Dragon Tat­too ben­e­fited from nov­el­ist Stieg Lars­son’s su­perb gifts as a sto­ry­teller, Dead Man Down re­lies on a clut­tered screen­play by JH Wy­man, in which shock­ing set-pieces and ab­surd plot twists prove no sub­sti­tute for a sat­is­fy­ing nar­ra­tive.

In The Girl with the Dragon Tat­too Oplev proved him­self a mas­ter of at­mos­phere as well as plot. His film was steeped in a mood of chilly Nordic gloom un­matched since the days of Ing­mar Bergman’s ro­man­tic pes­simism. In Dead Man Down at­mos­phere is about the only thing the film has go­ing for it — with rain­drenched streets, bar­ren dock­sides, empty ceme­ter­ies and aban­doned, rat-in­fested ware­houses. And for a film sup­pos­edly charged with ex­treme emo­tion — ha­tred, sus­pi­cion and a lust for re­venge — the per­for­mances feel cu­ri­ously wooden. It’s hard to be­lieve Colin Far­rell, who plays the anti-hero Vic­tor, is the same ac­tor we saw in Martin Mc­Don­agh’s enig­matic black com­edy In Bruges.

Vic­tor’s back­ground is Hun­gar­ian but he speaks Amer­i­can English with­out a trace of his old ac­cent and is rather proud of it. He also speaks with­out a trace of an­i­ma­tion. But, then, he lives with the bur­den of two tragic mem­o­ries: the death of his young daugh­ter in an ac­ci­dent and the mur­der of his wife, who has been killed to pre­vent her giv­ing ev­i­dence at a crim­i­nal trial.

Vic­tor pins the blame for both deaths on a ruth­less gang boss, Alphonse Hoyt (Ter­rence Howard), and has in­fil­trated Hoyt’s em­pire with a view to ex­act­ing re­venge. While he awaits his op­por­tu­nity he be­gins see­ing Beatrice (Ra­pace), a mys­te­ri­ous woman who lives in a neigh­bour­ing apart­ment. Beatrice, a pro­fes­sional beau­ti­cian, has been dis­fig­ured in a road ac­ci­dent and wants Vic­tor to hunt down and kill the driver re­spon­si­ble. If he re­fuses, she will give po­lice a video show­ing Vic­tor killing an­other gang­ster, which she has se­cretly filmed through his apart­ment win­dow. It hardly seems like the ba­sis for a deep ro­man­tic at­tach­ment but in Dead Man Down we can’t be sure of any­thing.

Put like this, the story may sound in­trigu­ing. I could imag­ine Fred MacMur­ray and Bar­bara Stan­wyck play­ing the roles in the hey­day of Hol­ly­wood noir. And if Dead Man Down had con­fined it­self to th­ese few plot es­sen­tials it might have worked well as a sus­pense thriller. But the screen­play is over­loaded with ex­tra­ne­ous char­ac­ters, all with per­sonal vendet­tas to set­tle be­tween ri­val mobs. And frankly it’s a mud­dle — at least un­til the fi­nal or­gias­tic shootout, with its lu­di­crous re­minders of Sky­fall and Django Un­chained. I think Beatrice and Vic­tor are the only two char­ac­ters left stand­ing in the end. Will ro­mance flour­ish af­ter all?

Hap­pi­ness Never Comes Alone,

with So­phie Marceau, cel­e­brates tra­di­tional val­ues

Dead Man Down

Colin Far­rell is the cu­ri­ously wooden anti-hero in

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