Photo by Jean-Paul
Dumas-Grillet/CorbisLook at Me, a tale of petulant, unfulfilled women and weak, narcissistic men, belongs in the pantheon of modest little French ephemera from which you emerge wondering what the hell it was all about, yet deeply satisfied by its warm particularity. Directed by Agnès Jaoui, who made the equally delightful The Taste of Others (2000), this comedy of manners with a serious purpose centers on a group of loosely connected neurotics, all working in the rarefied worlds of amateur chorales, all wanting a piece of a man incapable of noticing anybody but himself. Etienne, wittily played by Jean-Pierre Bacri, who is Jaoui’s husband and co-screenwriter, is a successful publisher and stalled novelist so wrapped up in his own small troubles he can’t see that both his calorie-obsessed young trophy wife (Virginie Desarnauts) and his 20-year-old daughter by a former marriage are wilting from lack of attention. The daughter, an aspiring singer and actress played with astute understatement by Marilou Berry, suffers from what passes for homeliness in French movies (she’s plump and striking), and being named Lolita doesn’t help her mostly correct perception that people are only interested in her as an avenue to her father’s social power. Even the singing teacher (played by Jaoui) whom Lolita idolizes is drawn to Etienne like a moth to the flame, as is her long-faced husband (Grégoire Oestermann), a writer who believes himself a failure until sudden success pulls him into Etienne’s inner circle. Matters come to a head when the whole sorry crew gathers for a weekend in the country, where Lolita’s choral group is scheduled to give a recital.

Look At Me offers no startling insights. Jaoui and Bacri’s acid commentary on the obsession with self and body image among the French haute bourgeoisie is funny, but hardly news. But these hapless malcontents, sweating and puffing as they strive for validation from a man who lacks sufficient backbone to live his own life, let alone theirs, are beautifully observed with a hardheaded sympathy that endears them to us even as they drive us up the wall. Lolita’s insecurity, her inability to tell a suitor with honorable intentions from a charlatan, is appallingly familiar and oddly moving. And if Jaoui and Bacri have raided the self-help bookshelves to give her the kind of closure life rarely provides, we can forgive them that, for this shrewd, merciful portrait of an unformed woman who never got the emotional nourishment she needed, and persists on living off the dividends of her sense of grievance, is a sight livelier than the pat resolution they bestow on her.

LOOK AT ME | Directed by AGNÈS JAOUI | Written by JEAN-PIERRE BACRI and JAOUI | Produced by JEAN-PHILIPPE ANDRACA, CHRISTIAN BERARD and JUDITH HAVAS | Released by Sony Pictures Classics | At Laemmle's Royal, Town Center 5, Playhouse 7

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