When 10 people who don't really know each other show up at a dinner party, it's initially difficult to tell everyone apart. That's what happens at the start of "Change of Plans," a tasty French romantic comedy diversion with just a touch of seriousness thrown into the mix.
Director Daniele Thompson, who co-wrote with her actor son Christopher, soon brings order out of chaos and pulls everyone and everything into focus. By the time this lightly entertaining look at life's emotional crises ends, even the characters you didn't think were sympathetic will have won you over.
In this, "Change of Plans" is very much in the tradition of Thompson's earlier work, including "La Buche" and the most recent "Avenue Montaigne." Her credits as a writer go even further back, to collaborations with her father Gerard Oury and an Oscar nomination as cowriter of "Cousin, Cousine" in 1975.
"Change of Plans" is not only set in Paris, it's very Parisian in its specifics. The dinner party in question takes place during the June 21 "Fete de la Musique," a citywide celebration of street music, and the film's French title, "Le Code a Change" refers to a change in the door codes that are ubiquitous in the city's apartment buildings.
This film is also traditionally Continental in its approach to the interpersonal entanglements of life. Almost everyone at that Parisian dinner party, whether married or not, is either thinking of an affair, having an affair or ending an affair. Maybe it's something in the water.
The hosts of the dinner are ML (Karin Viard) and her husband, Piotr (Dany Boon). She's a high-powered attorney and he's taking a hiatus from work and doing the cooking, which on this night is a Polish stew called bigos. (The recipe unaccountably appears in the final credits courtesy of Roman Polanski.)
Among the guests are the couple's close friends Melanie (Marina Foïs) and Alain (Patrick Bruel). He's a successful oncologist who worries about his patients while she is a gynecologist having an affair. She's so religious she goes to church to pray fervently for "the strength to break my husband's heart."
Though she's rarely in the city, ML's sister Juliette ("Lady Chatterley's" Marina Hands), a film costume designer, is in town and coming with the much older Erwann ( Patrick Chesnais), an actor who's become known for doing a farcical anti-drunk-driving public service spot.
The last couple invited includes Lucas (co-writer Christopher Thompson), another hotshot lawyer who would like to hire ML for his firm. His wife, Sarah ( Emmanuelle Seigner of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"), is a much less confident person, giving to saying things like "I'd screw up my own suicide."
Then there are the single people: ML's flamenco teacher, Manuela (Blanca Li), and Jean-Louis (Laurent Stocker), who has just finished remodeling ML and Piotr's kitchen. And don't forget the unexpected appearance of Henri ( Pierre Arditi), the father of the two sisters whom Juliette hasn't spoken to in years. It is that kind of a film.
While most dinners, as one of the participants says, are either "clammed up or tell all," this particular dinner falls half-way in between. The participants may not give away much in public, but everyone has issues, agendas and unfinished emotional business. Our ability to see what's happening in the other parts of the characters' lives gives what goes on at the table a bit of extra bite.