Thursday, March 22, 2018

A wine country rom-com, and devestating class conflict

You Can’t Say No (Peter Kramer) is a not so hidden gem that should get wide release. It had its Florida premiere here and will be in very limited release – 10 markets – very soon. But this joyful romantic comedy-drama is a feel-good movie with great characterization and a script to match. Alex (Marguerite Moreau) and Hank (Hus Miller) are an estranged couple about to sign divorce papers. He packs up, gets on his Honda, and hits the road. She packs off the kids with mom and decides to do the same. By chance they meet at a bar in northern California, not far from their home, after his antique motorcycle has broken down. Alex realizes she can’t quite relinquish the relationship and Hank obviously still has eyes for his wife. For fun, they embark on a game “You Can’t Say No.” In which each person must answer “yes” to a question no matter how outlandish. Meanwhile, the cast of characters is exceptional, with Allison (Ingrid Vollset), a travelling free spirit who tries to put the moves on Hank, Miles (Hamish Linklater), a quirky manager at Hank dad’s winery, and Buck (Peter Fonda), the hippish and successful winery owner. The visual backdrop is the sumptuous Sonoma County wine country. It’s the kind of film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, such as when Hank is down on a knee and about to re-propose to his wife, and a passerby jocularity interrupts the mood. And Buck, despite his love of organic coffee, loves pop tarts.

Meanwhile, Madame (Amanda Sthers), starts out whimsical with husband and wife Bob and Anne Fredericks  - (Harvey Keitel and Toni Collette) breezily cycling along the streets of Paris. They seem like they’re on vacation (Bob can hardly speak French and self-mockingly puts on an accent) but in fact are super rich Americans with a mansion of a second (or third) home, which looks like a castle, in the City of Lights. What they really are is hypocritical and mean. Bob, apparently an investment banker, can’t finance the mansion or his wife’s - "Madame's" - lifestyle, and must sell a Caravaggio painting of the Last Supper. That’s symbolic of a dinner party Anne is throwing, where a surprise guest, Steven (Tom Hughes), Bob’s son from a previous marriage, arrives unexpectedly. This throws Anne into a Tizzy fearing 13 guests is unlucky (there’s reference to the 13 guests at the Last Supper). She rapidly recruits the head maid, Maria (Rossy de Palma), to be the 14th guest. Maria is totally out of her league, sitting among this elite class including the Lord Mayor of London and his gay SO. Nervously she spouts some lewd and distinctively lower-class humor. But art dealer David Morgan (Michael Smiley) takes a fancy to her after being tipped off, erroneously by Steven - who likes to create havoc - that she’s a member of Spanish royalty. An obsessive romance develops as Morgan finds Maria “beguiling.” But Anne can’t stand it. At one point she pointedly tells Maria she should remain within her station. Finally (spoiler alert), she discloses to Morgan that Maria is really her maid. Morgan drops her like a lead balloon. Wrapped in lightheartedness, with a sound track to match, Madame is a devastating tale of class snobbery and cruelty, not to mention hypocrisy, as Anne, a “lifelong Democrat,” and the pretty people in her circle, for example, bemoan the vote for Brexit.

(The Gasparilla International Film Festival runs until March 25 in the Tampa Bay, Florida, area.)

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