What’s essentially an old-fashioned women’s picture is dressed up with a helping of Gallic whimsy in “Delicacy,” a comedy-drama from a new fraternal team, David and Stephane Foenkinos, that dusts off the tired cliches of the past and tries to give them new life, with only partial success.
The movie, based on a novel by David, starts with a fairy-tale romance between Nathalie (professional charmer Audrey Tautou), a free-spirited sprite, and ruggedly handsome Francois (Pio Marmai), who meet “cute” in a bistro, where he bases his decision to approach her on whether or not she chooses to order apricot juice. (Naturally she does, so it must be fate.) After a whirlwind courtship marked by some fantasy moments and montages, they wind up wed—but only briefly. Their happiness is soon destroyed by Francois’ death in an accident while out running, and Nathalie understandably goes into deep grief.
Her funk distresses her mother (Ariane Ascaride) and best friend (Josephine de Meaux), but when her married boss (Bruno Todeschini) takes her to dinner to celebrate a promotion and makes a pass at her, she’s shaken to realize her emotional fragility and impulsively kisses Swedish co-worker Markus (Francois Damiens) in her office. For her the smooch is an inexplicable act, but to him—a balding fellow who might be described as flabbily bland by comparison to her dead husband—it’s an intoxicating entrée into a new world of possible romance.
The rest of the film is, of course, devoted to the question of whether or not the two will wind up together. After all, they’re mismatched. Her friends and family can’t understand why she might be attracted to such a literally colorless schlub (he wears what seem to be exclusively earth-toned clothes). She’s uncertain about the relationship herself. Her boss is still lusting after her and prone to interfere. Markus feels compelled to look elsewhere when rejected. And so on.
Of course, there’s never the slightest doubt where things will end—the ending is as predictable as it would be in any Hollywood romcom, though the Foenkinoses dress it up in a clever final shot that leaves room for an enigmatic closing smile from the leading lady. That doesn’t mean there aren’t incidental pleasures along the way. Tautou is always watchable, and Damiens has a rumpled, everyman quality that works without lapsing into caricature. The rest of the ensemble is fine, and cinematographer Remy Chevrin makes the most of the Paris locations, even if Emile Simon’s background score tries too hard.
On balance, though, “Delicacy” ends up seeming like an old Joan Crawford vehicle that’s been pureed into something more suitable for Tautou’s particular gifts. It basically rewraps familiar elements with a pretty new ribbon, and while the package isn’t unattractive, what it holds doesn’t amount to much.