Look at Me Agnes Jaoui

A couple of critics have compared this French comedy to Woody Allen, but it's no contest — though they share a love of neurotic bourgeois artists, co-writer/director Agnes Jaoui is far more critical and far less self-impressed.

The sprawl of characters centres on Lolita Cassard (Marilou Berry), the fat and unnoticed daughter of novelist Etienne Cassard (Jean-Pierre Bacri); she's tired of irritable Etienne's casual dismissal of her, the obliviousness of his young trophy wife (Virginie Desarnauts) and of the boys who use her to meet her famous father. Of course, she creates some of her own problems with an ultra-defensive posture that's much like her father's, which is where the film pulls up from Woodyism — though she's the centre of the film, she's a hard character to completely like, as she rushes to sabotage herself before someone gets there first.

So it is with the rest of the characters — including the girl's initially exploitative vocal teacher (Jaoui) and her sad-sack writer husband (Laurent Greville), who begins to drift when he gets a taste of success — where the Woodman would clearly separate righteous from wicked (and absolve himself from any responsibility). But Jaoui can see the distance between character flaws and genuine malice, and bounce people back and forth between poles of sympathy.

Maybe that oversells the film, which is still pretty unassuming and confined to a restrictive intellectual milieu. But unlike Allen, whose posh Manhattan fantasy world seems to have sprung from some E.B. White acid flashback, Jaoui and co-writer Bacri at once know their beat and love it enough to chide it when it acts up. It's a modest film in many senses of the word, and if it won't rock your world, it'll still tickle your fancy. (Sony Pictures Classics)