My Worst Nightmare (2011)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Romantic Comedy  |   Release Date - Oct 19, 2012 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 103 min.  |   Countries - Belgium , France   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mark Deming

Opposites attract -- or at least, that's what the movies have been telling us ever since the concept of the "meet cute" romance first reared its head. The less two people have in common, the more potential they're imagined to have in a romantic comedy, and this thinking is hardly limited to Hollywood. The French comedy-drama My Worst Nightmare (aka Mon pire cauchemar) is built around the notion of two people who outwardly seem like polar opposites somehow coming together despite logic or circumstance, and while in this case the French handle the material with a bit more flair than their American counterparts, this movie mostly gets by on the charm of its cast rather than any particular inspiration on the part of director and co-screenwriter Anne Fontaine.

My Worst Nightmare stars Isabelle Huppert as Agathe, an attractive and stylish woman gracefully navigating middle age who runs an upscale art gallery in Paris. Agathe is clever and charming, but she's also emotionally chilly and a stern taskmaster, and woe be unto those who don't live up to her exacting standards. She shares a large and well-appointed flat with her longtime paramour François (André Dussollier) and their son Adrien (Donatien Suner), and is not at all happy with the mess and slow progress involved in remodeling her bedroom and closet. Agathe is attending a parents' meeting at Adrien's school when she first encounters Patrick (Benoît Poelvoorde), a not-so-bright loudmouth who derails the meeting by steering the conversation away from testing procedures with a rant about serving more meat in the lunchroom. To her annoyance, she learns that Adrien's new best friend Tony (Corentin Devroey) is his son, and Patrick becomes a recurring presence in her life. Despite Agathe's feelings about Patrick (or perhaps because of them), François takes an immediate liking to him and his outspoken manner, and when he learns Patrick is a handyman who needs work, he hires him to finish the bedroom. Having Patrick around the house doesn't agree with Agathe at first, but she learns to tolerate him and grudgingly admires his desire to do the right thing for his son. Patrick's lack of a fixed address is causing him problems with children's services, and he frequently meets with social worker Julie (Virginie Efira), whom he tries to romance in his sweet but tactless manner. François is introduced to Julie through Patrick and is immediately smitten; he decides to end his relationship with Agathe to be with her, even though she's half his age. Agathe is calm but bitter about François' departure, and when Patrick shows up at an opening at her gallery, she joins him in tying one on. The next morning, they wake up together with the dumbfounded knowledge they've had sex, which is especially puzzling for Patrick, who often discusses his fondness for large women. When Patrick is faced with the prospect of losing Tony if he can't provide him with a steady home, Agathe allows the two of them to move in and volunteers to pose as his girlfriend, though it doesn't take long for this plan to go sour.

My Worst Nightmare starts out breezy and briskly paced, even though it's relentlessly predictable in its first act, and the characters waste no time in defining their limited boundaries -- Agathe is beautiful but intolerable, Patrick is a lovable dunderhead who says what we're all thinking (well, what someone is thinking), and François is just putting up with Agathe until he realizes he can do better. At the halfway mark, Patrick's situation becomes more serious and the film follows suit, but while Agathe learns to lighten up a bit and Patrick struggles to straighten up and fly right, neither of them seem to reveal anything we hadn't seen before despite these supposed changes. And François' romance with Julie becomes increasingly implausible as the movie goes along, especially as he learns of her obsession with trees and her inflexible neo-hippie lifestyle.

Considering how one-dimensional the screenplay by Anne Fontaine and Nicolas Mercier often is, it's a pleasant surprise how well the cast fill out their roles. Isabelle Huppert seems to be having fun playing Agathe and isn't afraid to sometimes make her hard to like in the service of the character, and she's sexy in spite of her cool attitude; meanwhile, Benoît Poelvoorde plays broad as Patrick but doesn't overdo it, even as he inappropriately shares his opinions about nearly everything, especially the opposite sex. The oddball chemistry between Huppert and Poelvoorde elevates My Worst Nightmare into something more than an ordinary romantic comedy, but while it's painlessly enjoyable, you've probably seen something very much like this before -- though not necessarily with English subtitles.