The Discreet Charm of the... French Upper Middle Class 


Change Of Plans
Directed by Daniele Thompson

As far as European satires about the oversexed and aging bourgeoisie go, Change Of Plans probably isn't joining Bunuel, Fellini and Rohmer in the Criterion Collection. A group of middle-aged friends meet for a dinner party, bringing along all the plastered-on smiles, simmering resentments and secret relationships required for any such fictional gathering—Piotr tries to hook Jean-Louis up with his sister-in-law, but Jean-Louis is banging Piotr's wife while Piotr screws his wife's friend, that kind of thing. But where the provocateurs of yore would use this comedy of manners to condemn the sick soul of Europe, writer/director Daniele Thompson has no desire to upend the dinner table: a flash-forward even tells us everyone will meet again next year. Bring wine!

Given that she wrote feel-good dramedies like Cousin, Cousine for decades before directing them herself, it's tempting to compare Thompson to aging American anxiety-soothers Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron. But it'd be a mistake to dismiss the film just because she doesn't show contempt for her upper-middle-class subjects. Tony winners like God Of Carnage to the contrary, not every adult get-together has to devolve into a dark night of the soul to be interesting, and the lack of plate-throwing (only Emmanuelle "Mrs. Polanski" Seigner's seething housewife remotely makes a scene) doesn't keep the actors from conveying a frustrated internal life. Thompson doesn't shirk from the ugliness that can lurk behind long-married couples—she just doesn't think it requires an on-screen exorcism.

While Thompson's willingness to admit adults successfully carry (and even overcome) such burdens is refreshing, her use of plot contrivance to assure smooth resolutions—oh, there will be dancing over the credits—is as artificial as any rom-com's (though so are cruel ironies of Todd Solondz). Folks familiar with her output won't be surprised she's still non-judgmental about infidelity and anomie compared to most filmmakers, and the uniformity of everyone's problems may be why, despite the quality of the acting here, none of the characters seem definitive. But unless you're planning revolution, it's worth appreciating feel-good cinema that isn't painful to watch.


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