Beautiful Lies

Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t just money that makes the world go round. White lies play their part too. No, you don’t look hideous in those pants. Yes, you might have a future as a singer. This house was absolutely not built on top of a desecrated 19th century cemetery. Ever told a white lie that got you into trouble? Beautiful Lies offers a few lessons on how not to deal with the fallout.
Emilie (Audrey Tautou), a single thirty-something, owns a hair salon. One of her employees, a handyman named Jean (Sami Bouajila), carries a torch for her, and writes her an anonymous love letter to express his undying but unrequited love. Not thinking twice, Emilie discards the letter, until she meets up with her mother, Maddy (Nathalie Baye), separated and no longer interested in taking care of herself. Seeing an opportunity, Emilie resends Jean’s letter to Maddy, posing as a secret admirer. Maddy is reinvigorated, but a chain of complications is set off with poor Jean bearing the brunt of the problems.
Part sitcom and part melodrama, Beautiful Lies is quite different from the average French movie that makes it to our cinemas. While we’re used to oddball comedies like Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs and Amélie (which first brought Tautou to our attention), action driven flicks as produced by Luc Besson or revolutionary, arty stuff in the mold of Jean-Luc Godard, this is a rather conventional romantic comedy. Emilie and Amélie might sound similar, but Tautou’s portrayal of the former character features none of the quirky, whimsical traits that made the latter memorable. Instead, she comes across as a mean-spirited person who isn’t afraid to use people to get what she wants. Perhaps we’re wrong to expect another Amélie of her, but in any case, Beautiful Lies isn’t quite funny or different enough to warrant a hundred minutes of reading subtitles.
The movie looks good—it’s filled with rich, warm colors and picturesque images of a French seaside city, but what it really feels like is an extended episode of Frasier. There’s an air of sophistication and intelligence about Beautiful Lies, but its characters somehow manage to dig themselves deeper into their problems when simple solutions are right in front of them. The abuse of the decent Jean in the film gives it an interesting touch (channeling Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, perhaps), but if it was meant to be anything more than a straightforward love story, that subtlety is lost in translation.