Review

  • Just how much you'll enjoy "Avenue Montaigne" - a lighter-than-air comic soufflé set in a picture-postcard-perfect Paris - may well depend on your level of interest in all things French and continental.

    Our tour guide for the occasion is a perpetually upbeat, pixie-haired waitress named Jessica who becomes both an observer of - and occasional participant in - the lives of some of the more colorful patrons who frequent the café at which she works. These include two people who produce art and one who consumes it: an unhappy concert pianist who has grown weary of playing music to elite audiences and yearns to rip off his tuxedo and tickle the ivories for the general public; a neurotic actress who is desperate to get off the popular primetime soap opera on which she appears and to land a role in a more "serious" movie (Sydney Pollack plays the American director who may just give her the chance to do that); and a terminally ill art collector who is slowly divesting himself of his massive collection, and who doesn't realize that his new "gold-digging" young girlfriend is, in fact, the former lover of his own semi-estranged son (ah, those French!).

    The first story cuts the deepest in terms of thematic richness and character development; the second is played mainly for broad laughs, while the third comes across as sketchy and underdeveloped despite the fact that it is the one that most directly involves the central character of the movie.

    Like many Gallic comedies, "Avenue Montaigne" often seems a bit too impressed with its own preciousness - a trifle too smug in its innate "Frenchness" - to be completely enjoyable. The characters often talk in annoyingly portentous terms about art, philosophy and love, even though they have nothing much new to say about any of those items.

    Still, the city itself is enchanting, the performers endearing, and the tone so lighthearted and playful that, even though the disparate elements of the story never coalesce into anything particularly meaningful or memorable, the movie goes down as smoothly as a glass of vintage Bordeaux on a moonlit cruise along the Seine.