Prête-moi ta Main

Fiancée for Hire

November 21, 2006By Heidi EllisonFilm

After a couple of French friends told me that Prête-moi ta Main was a witty French take on the great American romantic comedies of the 1930s, I decided to give it a try in spite of my low opinion of recent Gallic attempts at onscreen humor.

Prête-moi ta Main also had the advantage of starring the winsome (although he’s now getting a bit too heavy to be called that) Alain Chabat and the currently hot Charlotte Gainsbourg (her new album, 5:55, went straight to number one on the charts soon after it was released in late August, and she has starred in three films this year), who is herself skinnier than ever. Director Eric Lartigau’s credits are mainly from television comedy sketches, which shows in the film’s uninspired production values.

Prête-moi ta Main is definitely a crowd-pleaser in France – it has been the box-office leader since it opened on November 1 – but I was disappointed once again in my search for a truly funny French film.

Like a number of recent Amélie imitators, it starts off with a quirky flashback portrait of a family, in this case a family with five daughters and one son, Luis (Chabat). A confirmed bachelor (which in this case doesn’t mean gay) at 43 with no interest in marriage, he cooks up a plan to get his marriage-minded sisters off his back: He will hire a woman to play his fiancée and then will be so brokenhearted when she jilts him at the altar that his sisters won’t dare to press him to find anyone else.

The lucky hired fiancée is Emma (Gainsbourg, a monotone actress with an understated style who always seems to be playing herself – a tomboyish young woman with a certain diffident charm). Their relationship is one of outright hostility from the start as they bicker over the details of their contract.

Needless to say, the plan backfires, so Plan B is put into effect: Emma will be horrible to the family so they will encourage him to dump her. This plan works only too well. I won’t tell you what happens in the end, but I think you can guess.

The French love for buffoonery à la Jerry Lewis pops up here and there – in the flashback to the young Luis with a ridiculous hairstyle and in the ridiculous character of Luis’s boss, who is always blubbering – but is out of place in a film that wants you to fall for its story.

Why this movie is such a success is a mystery to me. Few laughs were heard from the audience, and the dialogue has little in common with the sharp wit of the Myrna Loy/William Powell variety. And the Chabat/Gainsbourg couple is totally lacking in the chemistry needed to carry such a lightweight plot. The search goes on.

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