2018-04-26 13:13
Rossy de Palma and Collette in a scence from the m

What it's about:

Anne Fredericks is a wealthy American woman living in Paris who decides to throw a dinner party for a group of Paris' rich and influential but when her husband's roguish son decides to invite himself for dinner, she suddenly finds herself with thirteen guests – an unlucky number that she fears would sink the party. With no time to make any changes, she quickly enlists the help of her Spanish maid, Maria, to fill up the guest list but things quickly go wrong for her as one of her guests, an esteemed art appraiser named David Morgan starts flirting with Maria.

What we thought:

With Avengers: Infinity War taking over cinemas this long weekend, it's no real surprise that the only other major release this week is its direct opposite. Madame is a very small film, consisting mostly of people talking to one another, where not a whole lot happens for most of its near-two-hour running time. It also presumably has something to say about class relations, if not class warfare, where some fairly despicable rich people treat their poor, big-hearted foreigner maid as less than nothing.

At least, I assume it's about that. Madame has some very nice performances and sharp, often very witty dialogue but its undone almost entirely by being an unfocused mess that seems entirely unsure of just what story its trying to tell or what it's trying to say. 

Toni Collette and Harvey Keitel are, unsurprisingly, quite excellent as two fairly awful human beings; with Collette's Anne being a particularly gruesome example of human nastiness. They play a couple who can't seem to get it on with one another, may or may not be having extramarital affairs and he may be hiding a dark secret about their finances but, quite honestly, who gives a crap? 

Rather than eviscerating these horrible, horrible people, writer/director Amanda Sthers seems to think we care at all about their struggles and challenges. Why would we? After two hours with this awful couple, we learn little about them that we didn't know from the outset as they develop neither the complexity, nor the humanity to make us root for them at all.

This is a problem in and all but it becomes a fatal failing when you realize that the story the film should be – and presumably is – trying to tell is about Maria and how a good, kind-hearted woman like her may be used and abused by the rich and powerful simply because of what she does for a living. If that's the case, though, why does the film spend what must be the majority of its time with her horrible employers and the ins and outs of their lives? 

Are we supposed to draw some parallel and/or contrast between these vacuous upper-classers and the poor working class woman just trying to make ends meet? If so, it certainly doesn't come across in the film, which is much more interested in flitting between Maria's relationship with her fancy art dealer – which, to its credit, doesn't unfold quite as you may expect – and the failing relationship between the poor rich couple who, for all of their money, seem dreadfully unhappy. If there's a point to all of this beyond, “don't rich people suck” or “hey, money can't buy you love”, I must have missed it.      

Madame more than slightly resembles last year's Beatriz at Dinner, another failed attempt at a look at the divide between classes that exists to this day, but at least Beatriz, as clumsy as it was, was driven by a purpose; a central message that it never lost sight of, even if it did everything else. Madame doesn't even have that.

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