Putting things into categories has become part of a category in itself but, for lack of a better introduction to this review, humour us for a second. There’s two kinds of romantic comedies in this world. There are those that consciously avoid the trappings of rom-com conventions in order to say something different, and the second consciously uses those traps in order to concentrate more on entertaining. While they both have the thematic common denominator of love, and the means of romance and comedy are similar, the ends are completely different. The former’s primary concern is a genuine approach to the complexities of relationships without the crutch of sentimentality. The latter’s primary concern is to simply have a good time; sit back, relax, turn off the world around you for an hour and a half and just get lost in a fairytale. Alexandre Castagnetti‘s “Love Is In The Air” takes off, flies in circles, and lands right back where it started in that second category.
Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) is a struggling Parisian artist who is flying back home from New York City, to be with her fiancé Franck (Arnaud Ducet) and prepare for their wedding. She’s the kind of girl that needs a post-it note to tell her to check her post-it notes, but not only does she get to her plane on time, she’s upgraded to Business Class just because. Simultaneously, Antoine (Nicholas Bedos) wakes up in a Manhattan apartment next to a sexy girl whose name he can’t recall. Realizing that he’s late for his flight back to Paris, he rushes out in classic jerk-mode and arrives at the gate just as the doors close. “The plane is completely full” says the flight attendant, but after Antoine’s excuse about his dying mother falls flat, the real reason for his trip is revealed to be an important job interview. This gets him on the plane, which turns out is not at full capacity and has an available spot in Business Class. And the scene is set by the wave of the movie magic wand. Julie and Antoine are exes who haven’t seen each other in over three years and now they have to spend a 6-hour flight together, telling the story of their failed relationship to the elderly jaded couple on their right, and a young child to their left.
The more we learn about Julie and Antoine’s story, the more familiar it feels. After unsuccessfully trying to switch seats, Julie is stuck with Antoine and pretending that her life is awesome. Her sculptures are praised and her financé is a great guy (but flashbacks tell us that these are just straight up lies). Antoine feels the need to pretend as well and says that he’s in a long-term relationship himself, listing the catalogue of women he’s been with most recently in his mind and landing on one with a comical enough name to feel unbelievable even in this movie. Julie takes advice from her boozing mother Marie (Clémentine Célarié) whose bad experience with Julie’s father left her bitter and cynical, while Antoine takes advice from his funny best-friend Hugo (Jonathan Cohen) whose failed experiences with every girl don’t deter him from pumping up his buddy to go into “Cowboy mode” and lasso Julie back into his life. Through flashbacks, we learn everything about Julie and Antoine; how they met, their first date up on the Eiffel Tower, we meet the Antoine-obssessed Stephanie who ends up playing a vital role, and learn about Julie’s dream of studying art in Tokyo. As their story unfolds, a relationship fraught with misunderstandings and things unsaid begins to rekindle.
Movies like “Love Is In The Air” are hard to summarize without stumbling on almost every cliché there is; readers who have seen any rom-com with familiar players and settings described above (whether on their own volition, or out of necessity) probably don’t need to hear more to know exactly how it ends. But remember the category. The movie is riding on the confidence of its two charismatic actors and the low-fat screenplay which isn’t pretending to be anything deeper than what it is. Sagnier has a good-looking résumé, starring in Francois Ozon‘s “Swimming Pool” and “8 Women,” and more recently in “The Devil’s Double.” Her natural charm makes it impossible not to like her, and she’s forgiven for taking her mom’s idiotic advices because they fall into the many tropes Castagnetti and his principal screenwriter Vincent Angell are determined to milk until the teats of romantic-comedy are squeezed dry. The suave Bedos, whose résumé isn’t half as good-looking as his co-star’s, brings the usual confidence and aloof sarcasm that his character-type demands, and in the one rare moment of uncontrolled emotion to Julie’s declaration of love does something his character-types usually don’t: remind you that they’re vulnerable human beings. As for the screenplay, while it has its moments of overstepped boundaries (Stephanie’s lust for Antoine is something conceived from a high-school jock’s wet-dream,) it’s also very much aware of its own corniness; Antoine takes Julie to the top of the Eiffel Tower for their first date and she calls it exactly what it is, and one of their listeners aptly compares Julie and Antoine’s story to an in-flight movie.
So we’re back at categorizing romantic comedies. Criticwire‘s Sam Adams wrote a great piece recently on this idea of the death of the woman’s picture after Buzzfeed‘s Kate Arthur caused a stir at Sundance. He concludes by saying that gender is certainly a factor in the critical response to movies, and it’s one of those endless questions that deserve to be prodded. If women’s pictures are truly dying (in this personal reviewer’s opinion, they are not if you know where to look) it’s movies like “Love Is In The Air” that are its executioner. But in a conscious effort to avoid physical reactions of anger caused by the fetishized female-male dynamic in rom-coms like Castagnetti’s (truly a feminist’s nightmare), one must look to the meditating act of categorization. In this male reviewer’s opinion, it’s best to leave movies like this out of any serious gender-political discussions because they’re not made to be part of any serious discussions at all. Look to that first category and movies like “Enough Said,” “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” or “The Spectacular Now” instead. Leave “Love Is In The Air” for the in-flight time-killing moments when you just want to watch something easy and breezy. [C+]