From the start of the French drama Look at Me, it's plain that we're in for a 110-minute culture clash. Novelist Étienne Cassard (Jean-Pierre Bacri) and his entourage swan into an exclusive party celebrating the release of a movie based on one of his books; on the other side of the velvet rope, hopeful entrants gawk at him in undisguised envy and admiration. One of them remarks that just being near a writer imparts a feeling of warmth and comfort.
Hah. If the same scene were to take place here, Étienne would be parking the cars. That sense of altered priorities shadows this latest outing by director Agnès Jaoui (The Taste of Others). On one level, it's a story of how Étienne's patronage of a budding author (Laurent Grevill) tempts the latter man to compromise his principles and his personality. To buy that plotline, you have to imagine a culture in which intellect is as much of an impetus for celebrity as a big trust fund. It's a stretch.
Fortunately, there's another narrative thread in which Étienne's overweight daughter struggles to win his attention. That's something we can relate to: The dumpy, 20-year-old Lolita (Marilou Berry) isn't merely up against her dad's selfish indifference, but an entire society that views feminine beauty in narrow, confining terms. Her pop has even taken a trophy wife (Virginie Desarnauts) who's nubile enough to pass for Lolita's older sister.
Though it's verbose and cynical in the typical French fashion, the movie is well-acted; I especially enjoyed Jaoui's performance as a vocal coach who's integral in bringing the two writers together. The biggest problem is that there's no character sympathetic enough to sell the movie's critique of surface orientation. Lolita begs to be noticed, but the script (by Jaoui and Bacri) doesn't give her any qualities that would warrant the consideration. She's not especially wise, funny or kind; her only visible attribute is mopey resentment. Though that portrayal has myriad precedents in the real world, as the subject of a film it's just not that compelling.
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