Many viewers will be able to identify individuals from their own personal experiences who remind them of Audrey (Louise Bourgoin), the glamorous and gorgeous young waif at the center of Anne Fontaine's seriocomedy The Girl From Monaco. When we first catch a glimpse of her, she's doing a bit as a weather girl on a local newscast, prattling on endlessly, chanting a silly jingle, and twirling around like a half-wit. A past winner from a reality series who fancies herself the next future sensation on television (her newest idea involves a reality program about celebrities' pets), she amuses herself with an endless series of male lovers who stream in and out of her life. Her latest conquest is an intelligent and amiable attorney named Bertrand Beauvois (Gallic screen vet Fabrice Luchini), who has arrived in Monaco from Paris to defend a socialite (Stéphane Audran) accused of murdering a Russian. Meanwhile, Bertrand learns that he's inherited a stone-faced bodyguard named Christophe (Roschdy Zem) to protect him from the Russian's underlings and "secure the perimeter" of each room Bertrand enters.
The film pegs Bertrand's character from the opening sequence, when he rhapsodizes unconvincingly about the nature of love and romance amid the arms of a beautiful woman; a deliberate chasm exists between the man's platitudes and the absence of any palpable romance beneath the glamour of the moment. Subsequently, Bertrand responds to a deep kiss with the woman by reasoning that perhaps they should just end the encounter there -- anything else might be a disappointment. Fontaine presents a character somewhat jaded from past romantic disillusionments, and yet not incapable of being seduced into love or wrapped up in the alluring image of romance. Audrey demonstrates a similar degree of half-self-awareness; though unquestionably a bubblehead, she's Machiavellian enough to act shrewdly and calculatingly with men. And in the affluent Bertrand, this user perceives the ability to obtain far more than merely a one-night stand. In other words, Fontaine scores a difficult balance; by not merely keeping the audience outside of Bertrand's infatuation (looking in) but making each romantic partner half-aware of the nature of the relationship, the writer-director retains the ability to both present it and comment on its real nature.
Unfortunately, as intuitive as this is, the film also suffers for it. One wishes it were funnier, sexier. The elements of humor that do exist for the first two thirds of the story feel too understated, too subtle -- more clever and dryly witty than genuinely enjoyable. Although Fontaine's instinct about Bertrand's persistent mopery represents a wise choice for this character, she carries it too far; Bertrand sports a hangdog look throughout that weighs scenes down, and he seems so incapable of loosening up when Audrey beckons him to rip his clothes off and party with her that we wonder what his problem is.
The story nevertheless carries a wild card up its sleeve, and almost completely bounces back from the said tonal disappointments with a third-act surprise that has been persistently lingering throughout. To fully reveal this would be unfair, but it involves the backstory of a peripheral character, and a couple of major decisions (including one by Bertrand) in the final 20 minutes that will permanently alter the destinies of all the major characters. The picture -- which opens with the satirical use of Nat King Cole's glorious "L-O-V-E" on the soundtrack -- may unveil the "love" between Bertrand and Audrey as silly and phony, but it ultimately presents a non-romantic alternative as far more sincere, deep, and genuine. Therein lies the film's intelligence, maturity, and wisdom. If Fontaine had found a way to couple this message with riotous humor in the first half, she could have scaled much greater heights, but this well-crafted and competently acted tale deserves attention and merit for journeying beyond the surface of a silly amour fou and suggesting that real human connection lies elsewhere.