MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 23, 2018: MADAME

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motw logo 1-35Despite its (mostly) posh characters and haute Parisian dinner-party-centric premise, “Madame” isn’t just a zinger-filled drawing-room comedy. Rather, director/co-writer Amanda Sthers’ film is a cleverly satirical and easy to swallow examination of class, privilege, self worth, and the bone-deep insecurities that plague us all, whether we’re hosting luminaries or serving them coffee. Continue reading…

madame poster small“Madame” stars Toni Collette and Harvey Keitel as Anne and Bob, a wealthy American couple temporarily living in Paris with their children and household staff, including longtime maid/nanny Maria (Rossy de Palma). When Anne realizes that a fancy dinner party she’s been planning is going to have 13 guests, she comes up with an out-of-left-field idea to avoid that unlucky number: She enlists Maria as the 14th diner, dressing her up in couture and passing her off as a mysterious Spanish noblewoman. Maria is meant to stay quiet and leave early, but her vivacious nature shines through, and the guests — particularly art expert David Morgan (Michael Smiley) — are quite taken with her.

Faster than you can say “Caravaggio,” Maria is caught up in a passionate romance with David — much to Anne’s chagrin. Anne can’t stand the idea of “the help” finding happiness with the elite … or perhaps she just can’t stand the idea of anyone being happier than she is, given her increasingly hollow marriage and guilt about her growing attraction to suave Frenchman Antoine (Stanislas Merhar). And while Maria is under the impression that David knows the truth about her and loves her anyway, a fundamental misunderstanding between them seems destined to lead to heartbreak.

While the direction, cinematography, and editing in “Madame” are all skillful, the film’s success comes down to its strong performances, particularly Collette’s and de Palma’s. It would be all too easy to despise Anne as superficial and grasping — which she is, but she’s also desperately insecure, alone and scared amid her privileged trappings. And Maria is no social-climbing opportunist; she’s a warm, three-dimensional woman whose job has relegated her to the background but who craves love and recognition just as much as anyone else. And deserves it. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

MaryAnn Johanson What starts out as a genial drawing-room satire on class, snobbery, and superstition soon turns to a sly romantic comedy about jealousy, fantasy, and pretense with some delicious and very pointed things to say about the crushing expectations placed on women: on our bodies, on our spirits, on our relationships. Kudos to writer-director Amanda Sthers for upending and refreshing a tired genre.

Jeanne Wolf: I never thought it would be such fun to dislike Toni Collette—her character in Madame makes some of the bitchy TV Housewives look nice. And the plot is just as silly-snooty-nouveau-riche as Housewife episodes without the hair pulling and screaming. Madame asks her maid to join her dinner party when she realizes there will be 13 at her table and she fears the unluckiness of that number. Her fears, of course, are in the wrong place. 14 will be her undoing. The maid, Maria, played by funny and poignant Rossy de Palma is told to talk little and not drink too much. So what do you think happens? The soon tipsy servant, Maria, tells a dirty joke and enchants her table partner. The guy, played by Michael Smiley, thinks the posing housekeeper is some kind of charming royalty. He plays an art expert who also appreciates her display of cleavage. Note: My husband, who is not in “the biz” is always saying he loves eating scenes in movies. He’ll be delighted when he sees the lavish table settings, the precious food prep and the lush dessert buffet. You may need a glass of vino to enjoy some of the sharp lines, nicely slipped in by Toni. The scenes of Paris are enchanting. Just keep in mind this movie is a snack not a banquet and you’ll have a good time.

Jennifer Merin Madame is a slyly sophisticated contemporary comedy of manners from French filmmaker Amanda Sthers, who directed and co-wrote (with Matthew Robbins) the screenplay. MADAME is Mlle Sthers’ sophomore feature, but there is nothing sophomoric about the comedy. Set in the posh environs of upper crust Paris, the film’s coulda-been-predictable plot twists and turns on the daily doings of a collection of superficial, selfish and cunning characters who step all over each other to attain self-satisfaction. The amusing affair begins when a bourgeois hostess (Toni Collette) realizes there will be 13 at her dinner table and, to avoid that unlucky number, insists her maid (Rossy de Palma) join the guests rather than serve them. The maid’s hilarious social faux pas are amuse-bouches that precede a full feast of equally entertaining relationship-related events that impart a satirical but serious study about class struggle. In superb performances, Collette, de Palma and the ensemble capture the nuances of their characters, giving each of them great appeal despite their obvious and abhorrent flaws. Direction, cinematography and editing are deliciously wicked.

Sandie Angulo Chen: By far the best aspect of director Amanda Sthers’ comedic exploration of the haves and have-nots in Paris is the chance to see the striking Rossy de Palma’s unique blend of charm and humility. The Spanish actress best known for her many collaborations with Pedro Almodóvar (from Law of Desire and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Break Down to his most recent women-centered film, Julieta) isn’t often in English-language films, so it’s a treat to see the unforgettable performer flex her considerable comedic chops as Maria. A maid forced to pretend she’s her titular Madame’s (a cringe-worthy trophy wife played by Toni Collette) dinner-party guest, Maria boldly holds her own among the rich and sophisticated – and even catches the eye of a lonely art broker. Although the movie focuses on various characters, de Palma’s Maria is clearly the standout with whom audiences will connect.

Nikki Baughan: The traditionally British comedy of manners is given a decidedly continental twist by French writer/director Amanda Sthers, buoyed by excellent turns from Toni Collette as a wealthy, self-centred American in Paris and Pedro Almodovar favourite Rossy de Palma as her long-standing maid. When Anne (Collette) asks Maria (de Palma) to stand in as a guest at a fancy dinner party, it starts a romantic chain of events that will cause both women to question their own place in life. While the premise is slight, and somewhat old-fashioned in its outlook, the charming turns from both women – particularly the effervescent de Palma – bring a sense of authenticity and humour which gives it a fresh and breezy edge.

Kristen Page Kirby: One good dinner party can change anything. Couple Bob and Anne (Harvey Keitel and Toni Collette; 33 years apart, if you’re wondering if the age gap between onscreen husbands and wives ever narrows) host a motley crew of the very rich, beautiful and biting. When the last minute addition of Bob’s older son (Tom Hughes) brings the guest count to an unlucky 13, Anne presses maid Maria (Rossy de Palma) into service. In spite of — or possibly because of — her awkwardness, she nevertheless manages to snare the interest of art dealer David (Michael Smiley). De Palma’s performance is subdued, fitting for that of a woman used to lingering just out of sight. Writer-director Amanda Sthers uses close-ups often enough that audiences can see de Palma’s fine work without resorting to them too often. It’s Toni Collette’s Anne, though, that infects the whole movie: again, fitting for a woman used to being the center of attention, if not the universe. Anne is one of those bitingly beautiful women with a classless view of class — namely, that people have what they deserve. Because Anne is wealthy, she must deserve her wealth; because Maria is a maid, that’s what she deserves to be. When Maria begins to climb the slippery social ladder, Anne’s panic results not from any embarrassment that Maria (or more importantly, Anne) might suffer, but because Maria’s Cinderella experience calls into question the station of everyone at the ball.

Cynthia Fuchs: “I think it’s going to rain.” Anne (Toni Collette) turns to her husband Bob (Harvey Keitel), her blond hair perfectly styled, her eyes hidden behind giant designer sunglasses. “Why do you have to be so pessimistic?”, she asks. The couple is paused during their bicycle ride through Paris, a suggestion by her therapist to spend some “romantic” time together. “I am not pessimisteeque,” he smiles, “I’m realisteeque,” the faux French accent underlining just how much he dislikes living in a city where “everything is old.” Anne looks away, her straddling her sturdy rental bike: “They’re the same thing for you.” Read full review.

Marilyn Ferdinand: Anne Fredericks (Toni Collette), ensconced in a palatial mansion in France in an attempt to repair her marriage to Bob (Harvey Keitel), a New York businessman in financial trouble, is having a dinner party. The arrival of her alcoholic stepson (Tom Hughes) makes an unlucky 13 at the table, so Madame does the only logical thing—she insists that her maid, Maria (Rossy de Palma), pose as a guest. What could go wrong? Plenty, if you believe class mixing is worse than incest. In her sophomore feature, French director/screenwriter Amanda Sthers has created a fairytale sort of comedy that wonders whether a common housemaid and a rich sort-of aristocrat can find everlasting love. This kind of story was Hollywood fodder for generations, but Madame has too much edge to really pull it off. Sthers casts Anne as the Wicked Witch of the West and Maria as Dorothy wandering around in a world she has only seen from the outside. Rossy de Palma is fantastic as a sincere, beguiling innocent in this world, though it’s hard to understand how eight years with the Fredericks could have left her so gullible to the workings of their world. Further, we’re not supposed to notice that Anne’s solution to her imaginary problem is nothing but a plot device or that the clothes Maria borrows from Anne would never fit her in a million years. The comedy might have come off better had Toni Collette gone full she-devil, but she’s too good an actress not to try to humanize her vacuous villain. The result is that Anne and the other elitist characters come off as a particularly nasty, stone-hearted bunch. Madame is a confused mix of comedy, romance, and social commentary redeemed only by de Palma’s joyful presence.

Cate Marquis Madame is a French comedy of manners from writer/director Amanda Sther, that plays with what happens when a wealthy hostess suddenly discovers that she needs one more dinner guest to avoid having the unlucky number 13, and decides to pass off her maid as one of the guests. But this is no costume drama set in the 18th century – this story takes place in modern Paris, with Harvey Keitel and Toni Collette playing the wealthy American couple, living in a Paris mansion. Read full review.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: Madame

Directors: Amanda Sthers

Release Date: March 23,2018

Running Time: 91 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Amanda Sthers and Matthew Robbins

Distribution Company: Blue Fox Entertainment

Trailer

Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Marilyn Ferinand, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Esther Iverem, MaryAnn Johanson, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Kristen Page-Kirby, Moira Sullivan, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Betsy Bozdech

Betsy Bozdech is the Executive Editor of Common Sense, for which she also reviews films. Her film reviews and commentaries also appear on Reel.com and Hollywood.com.