Audrey Tautou in a romantic comedy? Hooray! One hour later – "Dear God, why won't this movie just end?"
To be fair, Tautou is great playing against type as a non-quirky, laid back hairdresser, but she's so effortlessly good that she sticks out like a sore thumb in this very weak film.
Beautiful Lies opens with a rather weak joke followed by a very creepy, stalkerish expression of love - surely not a sign of good things to come.
The plot follows Emilie (Tautou), the owner of a hair salon, Jean (Bouajila), the salon's maintenance man, who is secretly in love with Emilie, and Maddy (Baye), Emilie's depressed mother.
When Jean sends an anonymous letter expressing his endless love for Emilie, she has a quick smile before chucking it away, crushing poor Jean. Later, in an attempt to cheer up her mother (who has never gotten over being abandoned by Emilie's dad) Emilie digs the letter out of the trash, changes the names, and sends it to her mother.
It's a good set-up which could be used in a very good film; unfortunately, director Salvadori tries to play it more realistic, attempting to reject the inherent farce of the set-up. This doesn't work. Moments which should be fun and ridiculous are instead just awkward and uncomfortable.
The characters in particular suffer for this misfire. Some of the things which the characters do would work if this was an over-the-top comedy: by trying to paint them as realistic they just come across as mean and unlikable.
Too often, characters' thoughts are stated rather than shown: Jean is in love with Emilie, but she's only ever mean to him, so we don't know why. Emilie says she holds Jean in high esteem, but she only ever treats him as a faceless employee or an uncomfortable presence.
The three leads are talented actors, but even they cannot support the weight of making this film believable. The supporting characters are given some free reign to try and acknowledge the fact that they are in a farce, but as they're the only thing in the film which does, they look very weak.
There is the occasional chuckle to be had here, but they only serve as momentary respite to time half spent watching the film, half spent watching the clock.
It was interesting to discover that the correct English translation of the original French title (De Vrais Mensonges) is actually True Lies, the same title as Jim Cameron's 1994 Arnie comedy. Must rent True Lies soon, it's the perfect movie to try and wash this out of my brain with.