Mini-review: 'Chinese Puzzle'
In Cédric Klapisch's French domestic romance "Chinese Puzzle" -- the third entry in his "Auberge Espagnole" trilogy -- Romain Duris reprises his role as Xavier, a successful novelist whose personal life has gone the opposite way of his professional one.
His marriage to Wendy ("Heaven is Real" star Kelly Reilly) collapses after 10 years and two children. When she moves to New York City with her new Mr. Right, she also takes the kids, prompting him to head to the Big Apple and settle in a Chinatown apartment.
"Chinese Puzzle" evolves into one of those highly theatrical, introspectively vain guy moments when three key women in his life wind up sitting together on a New York park bench, affectionately discussing Xavier and concluding that the perfect woman for him would be a combination of all of them.
His ex-wife is there. So is his longtime best friend and now lesbian Isabelle (Cecile De France) for whom Xavier donates sperm so she can become a parent while working on Wall Street. Finally, his ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou) is there. She has also taken up temporary residence in New York to handle Chinese business clients.
This trio doesn't include a pretty Chinese bachelorette who marries Xavier just so he can stay in the USA to be near his kids. (Somehow, his marriage gets forgotten in the movie's artificially revved-up happy ending.)
Xavier constantly laments his impending 40th birthday, yet, he makes absurdly shallow observations for a seasoned novelist.
"The truth is that things are never simple!" he tells us in sporadic voice-over narration. "Things are complicated!" he tells his kids.
These are the weighty insights of a twentysomething, not a celebrated novelist with Xavier's experience.
"Chinese Puzzle" ventures into Woody Allen territory when famous philosophers magically appear to help Xavier deal with his crises. These erratic visits come off forced and affected, as if intended to prop up a saggy screenplay.
A review caveat: I have not seen Klapisch's 2002 "L'Auberge Espagnole" or its 2005 sequel "Les Poupées Russe" ("Russian Dolls"). I suppose this would be like watching Francois Truffaut's autobiographically inspired "Love on the Run" (1979) without having seen the three preceding films with his alter-ego, Antoine Doinel, first.
Maybe. Here at least, I can say that despite Duris' easygoing charm, "Chinese Puzzle" doesn't compel anyone to make back-story amends a priority.
"Chinese Puzzle" opens at the Century Centre and River East 21 theaters in Chicago. Rated R for language, nudity and sexual situations. 117 minutes. ★ ★