Yvan Attal’s modest but amusing, and occasionally sharply observant, little film might be thought of as a sort of Gallic sequel to “Notting Hill,” in which a movie glamor queen (Julia Roberts) was romanced by a simple bookseller (Hugh Grant). “My Wife Is An Actress” asks the question whether a marriage between a big star (in this case Charlotte, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) and a regular fellow (in this instance a sports reporter named Yvan, played by Attal) can survive the jealousy that might arise from her work with handsome leading men. In Hollywood hands such a story could easily become nothing more than an ultra-cute modern version of the old Tracy-Hepburn formula, but here it has some welcome tartness, along with a touch of poignancy. When Attal signs his director’s credit at the beginning of the film “Sincerely yours,” you can’t help thinking that he’s doffing his hat to Preston Sturges’ wonderfully sharp 1948 jealous-husband comedy “Unfaithfully Yours.” That picture was more full-blown frantic farce, in the typical Sturges mold, than this one, but Attal’s approach, while more humane and delicate, has something of the same honest spirit.
When we meet the central pair, they seem quite happy together, though Yvan is a bit nonplused by the fact that his wife is constantly badgered by autograph-hunters whenever they go out to dine with his sister Nathalie (Noemie Lvovsky) and brother-in-law Vincent (Laurent Bateau). He seems secure in their love, however, until an old beau of Nathalie’s asks him how he feels about Charlotte’s getting intimate with her cinematic co-stars. Suddenly (all too suddenly, frankly), Yvan begins to suspect that his wife might be seduced by John (Terence Stamp), the aging but still rugged hunk (and notorious Lothario) with whom she’s just begun filming a project in England. Soon he’s traveling the Chunnel train regularly to keep tabs on his Charlotte, who is, in fact, being gently romanced by John but stoutly resisting him. Yvan’s jealousy, however, actually drives her further into her co-star’s arms. Meanwhile Yvan, trying to understand his wife’s world better, begins taking acting lessons, and before long a young fellow-student becomes infatuated with him. Interspersed with the tale of the growing strain on their marriage are scenes depicting a rancorous argument between Nathalie and Vincent about whether their coming child, if male, will be circumcised, and whether he’ll be given a name like Moses or Abraham.
There’s a good deal that’s charming and funny in the film, but what really sets it apart are the touches of rather hard drama mixed in with the comedy. If the relationship between Nathalie and Vincent were taken merely as comedic, for example, it would be unbearably shrill, and Lvovsky’s performance, in particularly, as much too rough; but it’s actually fairly heavy–it’s hardly a hallmark of a lighthearted romance to raise the specter of French anti-Semitism. (It also permits a brief, wonderfully brittle, glimpse of Yvan and Nathalie’s parents.) And while there are many endearing moments between Charlotte and Yvan, the troubles that emerge between them become quite serious by the close. Gainsbourg is quietly radiant in what’s basically a reactive role; Attal is much fiercer, sometimes excessively so. (One wonders whether another director might have exerted firmer control over him.) Stamp almost steals the picture with a performance of effortless grace, yet another addition to his growing gallery of late-career triumphs.
“My Wife Is An Actress” has its problems, even apart from its woefully unimaginative title–the most serious being the overly abrupt turn of its major character from slightly befuddled to strenuously jealous. Even the sequence that many viewers will probably chortle most over–one in which her director has the entire crew take off their clothes to make Charlotte more comfortable doing a nude scene (only to have Yvan, predictably, show up)–actually seems intrusive and mood-breaking. But there’s enough that’s good in the picture that it’s easily worth a look.