Ma femme est une actrice (My Wife Is an Actress)

(2002) ** R
95 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: Yvan Attal. Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Yvan Attal, Terence Stamp, Noemie Lvovsky, Laurent Bateau.

I think Woody Allen will have to die before I'll be able to accept, much less welcome, his many imitators. Of the many blatant attempts to ape Allen's style or thematic obsessions, only Rob Reiner's pop variation When Harry Met Sally succeeded somewhat on its own merits. Inevitably, we now get the imported Woody Allen, from the land where Woody is still a star. France's Ivan Attal, a writer-director-star, fictionalizes (or not?) his relationship with wife (and star) Charlotte Gainsbourg in My Wife Is an Actress. The results are spotty and unseemly in a vague sort of way.

Attal plays "Yvan," an everyday schmo whose famous actress wife "Charlotte" (Gainsbourg) draws fawning attention and privilege everywhere she goes. In a casual conversation gone awry, an acquaintance asks if he isn't bothered by his wife whoring herself in love scenes. The last straw broken, Yvan drives himself batty while his wife attempts to shoot her new film with an elder but alluring actor named John (Terence Stamp). Yvan's largely self-induced marital strain unwittingly pushes his wife in the direction of John, even as Yvan makes flailing attempts to understand his wife (including his blossoming in an acting class).

Attal obviously takes this topic too seriously (after all, it is his life) to exploit it effectively as comedy. While he recognizes and refracts the absurdity of a life in the spotlight, he doesn't find more than a smattering of sour humor in it. Worse, Attal shoehorns in an Allen-like, Jewish-themed subplot--of friends' agony over whether or not to circumcise their impending child--without understanding that it has little if any thematic resonance with his main idea; if it's meant to be a gag on men's paranoid perceptions of threats to their manhood, it flops.

Attal's worst enemy with an American audience is our show-biz savvy. Those who love movies are most likely overexposed to the idea of the pressures on show-biz couples (who doesn't know, for instance, about Julia Roberts's marital journey?), and Attal isn't incisive or funny enough to sustain the premise. Probably the only memorable scene (because of its widespread nudity) will be familiar to film nuts as a restaging of Paul Verhoeven's infamous "undress the set" technique on Starship Troopers.

My Wife Is an Actress putters along amiably enough, with Attal a reasonably sympathetic sad sack and Gainsbourg luminous and likeable, if ironically underdeveloped as a character (Stamp, whose role within a role is an airline pilot, seems himself to be on autopilot). In the end, this half-developed cinematic diary carries little appeal to anyone not married to an actress.

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