Film Review: On My Way

Entertaining showcase for not-yet-superannuated French superstar Catherine Deneuve amounts to a jaunty rural road pic paved with humor and warmth as amusing anecdotes detour into matters of love, passion, family and aging.

Traveling through the French countryside, Catherine Deneuve has the driver’s seat all the way in this attractive, customized vehicle as she tools around in just about every shot and, as often as not, is captured in close-up. Filmmaker Emmanuelle Bercot wrote the film for her and we’re all the better for it. Still so fine an actor and easy on anyone’s eyes, septuagenarian Deneuve, here playing more common than her usual classy, is a constantly engaging presence. Current fans will be thrilled; new fans will be won.

In On My Way, Deneuve is divorced former beauty queen Bettie, a her-way-or-the-highway kind of tough-minded individual who has been running a modest, homey but now struggling restaurant in Brittany and caring for her aging mom Annie (Claude Gensac), another female fortress. All seems routine until the onetime Miss Brittany gets the shocking news that her lover Etienne has dumped her for the proverbial younger woman.

Unhinged and with firm hands and attention to duty shaken, she grabs the steering wheel of her old, dependable Mercedes sedan and impetuously drives off to cool her nerves. But the ride turns into a rural odyssey as Bettie hunts desperately for a cigarette.

An early stop on this unplanned road trip lands her at a small shop where an old codger rolls her a cigarette. She too rolls on to the seedy Le Ranch, a loud and rowdy country-music-themed redneck bar where she joins in the good-timey party vibe with boozing denizens. Later, she hooks up for the night with likeable yokel Marco (Paul Hamy).

Bettie’s desperate phone calls to her ex go unanswered, but other calls and visits reveal estranged, divorced daughter Muriel (French singer Camille), who saddles Bettie with her ten-year-old son Charly (newcomer Nemo Schiffman, the son of Bercot and the film’s cinematographer, Guillaume Schiffman) so she can go chase yet another job opportunity. Bettie’s job is now to deliver her grandson, with whom she has had little contact, deeper into the provinces to his paternal grandfather Alain (Gérard Garouste), a prosperous, down-to-earth homesteader who dabbles in local politics.

Bettie and Charly making their way to Alain’s home provides much of the fun (even some tension as Charly disappears). Eventually, Bettie and the precocious boy bond. Most electric is her detour to a luxe lakeside hotel for a French beauty queen reunion. There, Bettie sees old friends from her pageant years, most notably Fanfan (a welcome return for veteran actress Mylène Demongeot). The episode, featuring a gaggle of former winners, makes clear that French beauties of a certain vintage certainly age well and still rock.

Finally arriving at their destination, Bettie meets Alain for the first time, an encounter more portentous than meet-cute, as he’s an intriguing guy with a flair for cooking. For the grand meal served in very fresh-air French country style, a number of surprise visitors show up. What’s no surprise (the film’s upbeat tone is a shining beacon) is that all ends quite well.

Obvious, sensitive and feel-good, On My Way, with Deneuve in top form and clearly loving it, gives audiences as good a time as it obviously gave cast and filmmakers. Rural France also gets the loving treatment.