Directed by Amanda Sthers
Starring Toni Collette, Rossy De Palma, Michael Smiley and Harvey Keitel
On UK DVD and Digital Download September 17th, 2018

by Alex Plant

The Rom-Com is a genre that has fallen out of favour in recent years. With that in mind, Madame feels a bit like a missed opportunity. It has plenty of familiar tropes and a decent farcical set-up, but ultimately this Cinderella story has feet too large and oddly-shaped to fit a glass slipper.

Set against the backdrop of Paris, well-to-do Bob (Keitel) and his socialite wife Anne (Collette) host a dinner party to celebrate Bob selling a Caravaggio depicting The Last Supper. Aghast at discovering that, like in the painting, there are 13 places set at the table, superstitious Anne enlists the family maid, Maria (De Palma), as a last minute 14th. After a seating mishap, Maria ends up placed next to congenial Irish art broker David (Smiley), who, believing she is a Spanish countess, falls quickly in love with her. From there, hijinks ensue, with Anne seeking to put the kibosh on their blossoming relationship, while her own marriage slowly unravels.

The big problem here is that Madame buckles under the weight of its own star-power. Collette delivers a strong and assured performance, as she always does, but from the opening scene there’s just too much focus on her and Keitel’s misjudged comedy double act. Seeing them ride rental bikes around Paris, not having sex and considering adultery with other unlikeable characters all feels like time you’d rather be spending with Maria, who by all accounts should be the main character of this film. The balancing act between underdog romance and Collette’s woman on the verge of a breakdown is handled ungracefully. There’s one notable scene in which Collette bears herself to her would-be-lover that feels particularly tonally at odds with the rest of the film.

It’s a shame then, because De Palma and Smiley are delightful and the sort of coupling you rarely see in movies. But instead of getting to know them better, we have to spend time with Keitel getting kindergarten-level French lessons and clunky exposition from his meant-to-be-likeable-but-actually-awful son, Steven (Tom Hughes). It’s surrounding this character that Madame commits its most contrived sin: a washed-up writer novelising the film’s events as they pan out. Even the City of Love itself doesn’t get chance to shine. It’s commendable that director Amanda Sthers chooses to not cash in on Paris’ oft overused iconography, but, despite some artistically-framed shots, it almost feels like it could be any historic city.

It’s certainly not unwatchable and the performances are mostly decent, with Collette and De Palma particularly standing out. But the odd tonal shifts and an unsatisfying denouement make Madame a forgettable misfire rather than an irresistible tale of amour.


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