Editor’s Notes: Chic! is currently open in limited theatrical release.
Alicia Ricosi (Fanny Ardant) is in crisis. A French fashion designer with the world at her feet, she’s hit a creative wall thanks to being dumped by her beau of only a few weeks. When Alicia threatens to not only cancel her upcoming show but quit the fashion world forever, fashion house manager Alan (Laurent Stocker) demands her assistant Hélène Birk (Marina Hands) convince Alicia to stay in the business; if she doesn’t, she loses her job. Hélène, known by all her colleagues as Madame Birk, hires a man to insinuate himself into Alicia’s world and become her companion. But Madame Birk’s first choice fizzles, and Alicia finds herself an unlikely new inspiration: landscaper Julien Lefort (Eric Elmosnino), who has been working on Madame Birk’s estate, and driving the high-strung assistant crazy.
Chic!, the latest from French director Jérôme Cornuau, is a mild-mannered romantic satire set amongst lush landscapes, blue seasides and ravishing estates.
Chic!, the latest from French director Jérôme Cornuau, is a mild-mannered romantic satire set amongst lush landscapes, blue seasides and ravishing estates. It means to be trendy and hip, yet features such retrograde stereotypes it can hardly be anything but old-fashioned. The women are thoroughly awful, characters built on a series of dated notions, such as the idea that all women possess an inherent duplicity and selfishness. Women in Chic! leech off the inspiration and energy from the men around them, and in fact are unable to even exist without a man. Alicia is flighty and clueless, while Madame Birk is your standard ice queen, uptight and brittle, allowed only to thaw if she wins the embrace of a man.
On the occasions the film loosens up, there is quite a bit of humor and fun to be had. The scenery is gorgeous, and the interiors are lush and appealing. The fashions are hardly convincing as haute couture, looking more like something from the mother-of-the-bride collection at your local department store, but the colors and textures of the fabrics play nicely on film. The camera captures this opulent world in classic, comforting, symmetrical framing. Despite the usual attention to detail, however, there are strange errors, like Madame Birk’s hair changing length by several inches mid-scene, and the fact that internationally renowned fashion maven Alicia apparently owns only two skirts.
The camera captures this opulent world in classic, comforting, symmetrical framing. Despite the usual attention to detail, however, there are strange errors.
By the time we see Julien, a landscaper from a tiny village, prove to be better at marketing than women who have education and years of experience in the business, we know exactly where Chic! is going. This isn’t necessarily a fatal flaw, especially not in a romantic comedy, but too much time has been spent building up Madame Birk as a horrible human being. She’s essentially a psychopath, and comparing her to the grounded everyman Julien automatically turns him into the male hero who swoops in and rescues the women and effete men from their fates. Ultimately, the only way women can grow, become whole human beings with self-reliance, is if men bestow it upon them. Meanwhile, the men are scatterbrained, rude, unappealing, even self-described shits, yet are given the freedom to embrace their complicated, if flawed, identities.
Hands and Elmosnino, while solid, give turns reminiscent of older films; with very few changes, their characters could be plunked down into an American programmer from the 1940s, something starring Ann Sheridan and George Brent. Fanny Ardant, however, gives a delightful and modern performance. She’s soft-spoken and strong, misguided but well-intentioned, eccentric without trying too hard. When the film inevitably loses interest in Alicia, it loses its spark.
On the occasions the film loosens up, there is quite a bit of humor and fun to be had. The scenery is gorgeous, and the interiors are lush and appealing.