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In My Wife is an Actress,
writer/director Yvan Attal stars in his own film, playing a sports journalist who is
married to a movie star, Charlotte (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Attal and Gainsbourg are a
couple in real life, too, which perhaps enhances a relaxed give-and-take between them on
the screen. Where the parallels to their real lives end and pure fiction begins only they
know. Attal has acted in some two dozen films, so the imbalance between the real life
couple is likely less than that in the film where Charlotte's movie star career and
celebrity status lead to frustration and jealousy on Yvan's part.
At dinner in a restaurant with Yvan's sister and brother-in-law, Charlotte is hounded by autograph seekers. When Yvan is stopped by a cop for running a red light, the policeman recognizes Charlotte and is mesmerized by her star presence. Of course, no ticket is written. When Yvan tries to book a reservation in a popular restaurant, he is told there are no tables available till midnight. Charlotte calls and immediately gets a table for 9:30.
Small stuff, true, and, after all, there are privileges here as well as annoyances. But a degree of vexation is evident in Yvan; there is a power difference between them; insecurities arise. Things get a whole lot more serious when the issue of onscreen sex is raised. A guy in a bar mentions getting aroused by a scene in one of Charlotte's films. Sitting alone in a theater watching his wife in a love scene, Yvan cringes and peers about to see the reaction of others in the audience. So when Charlotte goes off to London to make a film--a film that includes a sex scene with her leading man (Terence Stamp)--Yvan's suspicions and jealousy reach a critical mass. Both of them start to consider extra-marital opportunities, inflaming the cycle of jealousy and mutual suspicion. Misunderstandings, miscues, and comic bad timing follow in classic romantic comedy style.
Some have compared Attal to Woody Allen here, but that's a stretch. He's handsome and sexy which Allen isn't, particularly. Allen has the most keenly developed sense of irony in filmdom and a finely honed wit; Attal isn't in his league on that score. But Attal does find the wryly comedic moments, both in his screenwriting and in his performance. He catches the subtle innuendoes between husband and wife, sometimes in words, sometimes just in the looks on their faces.
Gainsbourg (The Cement Garden, La Buche) largely plays the "straight man" here to Yvan's comic turns; she's charming and there is genuine screen chemistry between them. Terrence Stamp (The Limey, Bowfinger) seems stiff and miscast as Charlotte's leading man; the lines he's provided are so banal that it sometimes seems like he's in another film.
Attal includes a running subplot with Yvan's pregnant sister, Nathalie (Noemie Lvovsky) and her husband (Laurent Batteau). She is Jewish and insists that their incipient heir be circumcised; he's Gentile and wants his son "to look like him." It's also an opening for baby-naming jokes and a wry scene with Yvan and Nathalie at their parents' for dinner. The second couple acts as a foil for the first; the ordinary kinds of conflict and problems that they confront in their marriage contrast with the more rarified venue of movie star jealousies.
Attal also finds other targets for amusing jabs--acting classes, movie directors, disco doormen--but after a while the content begins to seem stretched a bit thin, even at 93 minutes running time. He also has an eye for the arresting image--the couple kissing in a street with the Pompidou cropped in the background--and nicely avoids the visual cliches of the London and Paris locations. The jazz score by Brad Mehldau is perfectly suited to the material.
In the end, it is the charm of the two leads that carries My Wife is an Actress, which is as light and fluffy as a Meringue Royale.
- Arthur Lazere