Film Review: Hotel Normandy

This French rom-com is nothing particularly new under the sun, but is brought off with enough knowing skill to make for a satisfying, mindless stimulant.

Alice (Héléna Noguerra) is turning 40 and still hasn’t gotten over the death of her husband, so her girlfriends at the bank where she works arrange a weekend outing for her at the Deauville Biennale along with a hunky guy (handsome Cedric Ben Abdallah) as a special birthday present for her. But the sexy “gift” gets sick and his bumbling brother Yvan (Ary Abbittan) takes his place. This happens, however, only after Alice has met and fallen for elegant art dealer Jacques (Eric Elmosnino), her perfect match who loans her a painting she admires. Then Alice discovers her friends’ plot, mistakenly thinks Jacques is the man for hire in question, and is bereft. Meanwhile, Yvan attempts to clumsily seduce her, while Jacques’ ex-wife gets into the mix and accuses Alice of stealing that valuable artwork.

Hôtel Normandy is a total piece of fluff, airily spun by director Charles Nemes and screenwriters Jean-Paul Bathany and Stéphane Ben Lachene, Through some charming performances and brisk pacing, it manages to stay afloat despite its many contrivances. It has a bit of the feel of those 1960s sex comedies with Doris Day and all those gals-looking-for-love epics like The Pleasure Seekers and Come Fly with Me, but with that certain, elegantly droll Gallic je ne sais quoi that saves it from being just another crassly commercial sex comedy. Jacques hypnotizes Alice with lines like “I’ll show you the lights of Le Havre. Like a giant Kandinsky!” and Yvan tries to get under her skin by studying her favorite book, song, wine and dinner choices. (The most Rock Hudson ever did for poor Doris was play cute and try to appear straight.)

It takes a while to warm up to Noguerra, who seems a particularly chilly fish at the start, but as her romantic dreams seemingly crumble, she becomes an entertainingly distraught mess, one minute splurging on a too-flashy cocktail dress and the next forcing her Christian Louboutin kicks on a hotel maid she decides to befriend. Abbitan also seems off-puttingly buffoonish at first, but then relaxes and becomes more attractive. You warm to him, with his car smelling of French fries from the vegetable oil this cheapskate uses as fuel and the hapless soccer allusions he brings into play during a highly faked literary discussion with Alice. I really thought the two of them would end up together, a charming case of opposites attracting, but it’s Jacques who wins Alice. Although he has less chemistry with Noguerra, the eccentric-looking Elmosnino is ardently convincing, giving a floridly lyrical physical description of her to the police that has the entire uniformed force positively misty for l’amour. Yes, it’s a total cliché, but how kind of wonderful that the French are upholding this sort of corny but sweetly human traditional stuff even in the new millennium. What do we Yanks have: crashing cars aflame?