Starring Audrey Tautou and set in Paris, "Happenstance" shares many similarities with recent French import sensation "Amélie," except that it's less ambitious, less engaging, more trite, less cohesive, more depressing, less enjoyable and shorter while seeming to be longer. It's sort of like "Amélie" with the cellophane torn off, the edges worn rough and all the good parts ripped out and sodomized by unhygienic wild boars. Ironically, "Happenstance" was actually released in advance of "Amélie" before being utterly crushed by it in terms of critical acclaim, box-office grosses, Miramax-funded publicity parties, and number of nubile starlets suddenly available to the director. If the director of "Amélie," Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and the director of "Happenstance," Laurent Firode, didn't previously share some kind of professional rivalry, they do now.
True to its title, "Happenstance" follows a series of meticulously "random" events to bring our two principal characters, Irene (Audrey Tautou) and Younes (Faudel) together so they can bellyflop into blissful fated love. An adulterous husband, a misguided do-gooder, a manipulative security guard, a double-talking street punk and a pathological liar all play a part in passing the hot potato of cause and effect. Except for the liar, now that I think about it -- his tangent inexplicably evaporates about three-quarters of the way through. Perhaps Firode ran out of film. Next time, he should go over to Jean-Pierre Jeunet's house and borrow a cup. I hear Jeunet has plenty.
We know where the movie is headed, so the only suspense is in guessing how long it will take to get there. It's like the "halfway game" they sometimes play when you fly overseas and you have to guess when you'll hit the halfway point in your journey (or how long before some ugly little ass nugget tries to ignite his shoes). The only real tension is provided by the adulterous husband subplot, mostly because it begs the question of how any Frenchwoman could be shocked that her husband is having an affair. That's what the French do, for crying out loud. France is the only country that dedicates commemorative postage stamps to adultery.
After all, they have to do something to pass the time -- if "Happenstance" is to be believed, Parisians spend their day immersed in every conceivable activity except for going to a job. Instead, they chain smoke and philosophize and adulterate and drink coffee. Gallons and gallons of coffee -- every third scene cuts to a spoon twirling pensively through caffeinated murk. The actors probably spent more time in line for le can than in front of the cameras. To be fair, a couple of characters do flirt briefly with gainful employment, but that messy business is disposed of early on.
The low point of the film occurs about midway, when a needless narrator (who looks a lot like G. Gordon Liddy) is injected just long enough to beat the movie's already blunt thematic points into your skull. Example: "I do believe this gentleman has decided to bet his fate on a random event, but little does he know that everything we do affects everything after it, much like the farting of a horsefly in Belgium can cause a mighty hurricane to wreak havoc on Nogales, Arizona." On and on we're lectured, as the oracle explains everything the filmmaker was incapable of conveying through more sophisticated cinematic devices, such as falling anvils and eyebrow wiggling. It's like so much cinematic duct tape.
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