The pleasures of "Love Songs" (at the Beverly Center Cineplex) are palpable but transient, tangy but ephemeral. There's charm in this realistic sex comedy/drama about Paris' pop music world but, beguiling as it often gets, it sometimes seems as fleeting as the love songs, sleek and sticky-sweet, at its center.
Writer-director Elie Chouraoui's film is a smooth mix of pop balladry and romance, with some weighty subjects: the nature of love, sexual responsibility, the perils of friendship and career. The movie is shaped around love songs (by Michel Legrand and Gene McDaniels) supposedly written by the central male characters, the young, struggling pop duo of Michel (Richard Anconina) and Jeremy (Christopher Lambert). The tunes reflect their relationships: their sometimes rocky bonds and a love affair between Jeremy and the lovely talent agent Margaux (Catherine Deneuve).
Lambert's Jeremy has a feral sensitivity; he's obviously sexier than his partner. But Anconina's goofily energetic, big-beaked Michel is sneaky-cute--the more industrious and talented, a Simon to Jeremy's Garfunkel. The relationships clash--not really out of disharmony (they're all considerate, intelligent, reasonably free of complexes) but because Jeremy and Margaux are lovers on a doomed interlude. She's been deserted by her husband, Peter (Nick Mancuso), a selfish American writer who's off to "find himself," and may return to her and the children at any moment.
The movie engages you, charms you, draws you in--it's wonderful at delineating the ways adults and children interact. But then to a degree it leaves you dry; the story, like the songs, doesn't really resonate in your inner ear.
If "Love Songs" (Times-rated: Mature) is somehow second-rate, it's still entertaining. More second-rate movies should be done with this kind of skill and sincerity, and they should have a central quartet as warmly attractive as Lambert, Deneuve, Anconina and Dayle Haddon (as Michel's girl). Or a camera as mobile as Robert Alazraki's, and an eye for detail as good as Chouraoui's and art director Gerard Daoudal's. Scene after scene is set and dressed with uncanny thoroughness and skill, delicately exaggerated and lyricized in just the right way. Every interior seems lived in, and at one point the birds in the street sound exactly as they should--shrill, empty and sharp--when a relationship is disintegrating.
Do the love songs hold it back? Lambert and Anconina lip-sync rather than sing them, and sometimes it seems the characters couldn't have written them either. Jeremy and Michel idolize the young Lennon/McCartney, but McDaniels' lyrics often have the cocktail-lounge profundity of Dan Hill's "Sometimes When We Touch (The Honesty's Too Much)." When you hear "When you relate from the heart, the magic is there from the start. . . , " it doesn't even sound as sharp or hip as McCartney after Lennon.
But if the lyrics slip, the people don't--mostly because they're the kind who really live cliches, dramatize themselves, re-create pop culture in their own lives (and then--ironically--as songwriters, churn it out into more pop). "Love Songs," both the movie and the balladry, is slight but enjoyable--with the accent on the second.
An International Spectrafilm Distribution Inc. release of a 7 Films Canada/C.S.I./F.R.3 presentation. Producers Elie Chouraoui, Robert Baylis. Director Chouraoui. Script Chouraoui. Music Michel Legrand. Editor Noelle Boisson. Art director Gerald Daoudal. Camera Robert Alazraki. With Catherine Deneuve, Richard Anconina, Christopher Lambert, Jacques Perrin, Nick Mancuso, Dayle Haddon, Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.
Times-rated: Mature (sexual situations, nudity).