Film Review: Change of Plans

Veteran writer-director Danièle Thompson corrals some run-of-the-mill Parisian bourgeois characters for a dinner party. While not as tedious as such off-screen gatherings can be, the light cinematic menu served here offers little more than a confusin

Oscar and César-nominated Danièle Thompson and her son Christopher Thompson have collaborated on a number of films, Avenue Montaigne being one of the more successful. Again they team up for Change of Plans and, once more, throw together an ensemble cast with multiple story threads that entwine their journeys.

But art-house fans who had a good time on the Avenue might want a “change of plans.” The earlier film, about a divergent group of people crossing paths on a posh stretch of the Paris boulevard, offered some interesting and endearing characters and colorful settings (trendy theatre, hotel, bar, auction house, etc.). But Change of Plans—and its focus on a bunch of dinner guests yammering in far less colorful Paris locales—gives us too large a serving of ordinary, self-involved people hardly worth a lunch. Additionally, they are as confusing to follow as the zigzag jumps between the initial party and the year after.

The dinner fare (a Polish dish) is whipped up by recently unemployed stay-at-home Piotr (Dany Boon), whose wife ML (Karin Viard), the co-host, is a take-no-prisoners divorce lawyer. The couple welcomes gynecologist Mélanie (Marina Fois) and her cancer doctor husband Alain (Patrick Bruel), neurotic Sarah (Emmanuelle Seigner) and her unpleasant lawyer husband Lucas (Christopher Thompson). Also à table are Juliette (Marina Hands), ML’s bitter sister who refuses to forgive their father Henri (Pierre Arditi), who had dumped their recently deceased mother. Henri has slipped into the apartment unnoticed and it is up to ML to keep him hidden from Juliette.

Not hidden from Juliette is dinner guest Erwann (Patrick Chesnais), an older film industry veteran who becomes Juliette’s significant other. Also on the guest list are Manuela (Blanca Li), a flamenco teacher who provides some visual dazzle, and the wholly un-dazzling and shy Jean-Louis (Laurent Stocker), who seems to have crashed both the dinner party and the movie.

As the story unfolds, there are minor problems to deal with (the frequency of scallops on menus, etc.) and weightier ones, including spouses who cheat, a terrible accident that causes paralysis, cancer scares, and professional crises. (When does a cancer doctor lie about a terminal diagnosis, and when does a divorce lawyer divulge an infidelity when it involves a friend?)

Changes of Plans has a nice look. The exteriors are shot against Paris’ annual summer night of live street performances. Other ingredients meant to spice up this stew are idiosyncratic scenes such as gynecologist Melanie taking pap smears or the secret time-out that oldsters Henri and Erwann take to bond and dance to some golden oldies.

Also in its favor, Change of Plans has nice performances, lively chatter, and an eagerness to please that keep us paying attention in spite of the company. But the pervasive superficiality overwhelms. Symptomatic of the narrow thinking is the original French title (Le Code a changé), which refers to the change in access code to the hosts’ apartment—a redundant snafu that occasionally, inconsequentially and gratuitously stymies arriving guests.