Published Mar 20, 2018Framed as a comedic romp, Amanda Sthers' Madame is propelled by committed, captivating performances trapped within a less-than-compelling story. It has the lovely look and exotic caper feel of a late-period Woody Allen locale piece, but its script lacks the snap, bite and comedic skill to really sing.
Toni Collette and Harvey Keitel play restless, aristocratic American couple Anne and Bob, who rent a Parisian manor with their young kids. We learn that he's fretting about money and stressed about selling a valuable Caravaggio to a handsome Frenchman while she, a middle-aged trophy wife, is mostly concerned with keeping up appearances. They both commit adultery and seem neurotic, but are charming enough to win our sympathy.
A dinner party at their residence goes awry when Bob's eldest son from a previous marriage, Steven (Tom Hughes) turns up unexpectedly, necessitating a 13th place setting, which is way too superstitious for Anne, who enlists a maid named Maria (Rossy de Palma) to sit for dinner and act like a member of high society. A mischievous author looking for a muse, Steven plays up the deception, telling art dealer David Morgan (Michael Smiley) that Maria is secretly from a wealthy family, and David falls for her working class-in-disguise charm, hard.
This precipitates the primary tension of the film but it never really heightens. Most of the characters are deplorable, and virtually all of them take advantage of Maria's naive idealism. Anne may be the most complex character only because she's not fully written; she is evil and good-natured at once, a constructive, self-destructive villain.
The film, too, doesn't quite know what it wants to be. A moral fairy tale for cynics? A crime comedy of deception and mistaken identity and class consciousness in the tradition of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels? The romantic setting and scenery — captured beautifully — and the performances shine, but Madame is a little dull for trying to be too sharp. (Pacific Northwest Pictures)