Though he’s lately been given to more muted (though structurally adventurous) relationship studies, prolific French director François Ozon was once celebrated for irreverent, feature-length homages to other movies: See The Sea and Swimming Pool to Alfred Hitchcock, Sitcom to John Waters, Water Drops On Burning Rocks to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and 8 Women to Technicolor musicals. Inexplicably shuffled to OnDemand and now to DVD without getting its due in theaters first, Ozon’s 2007 lark Angel returns to that tradition with a cheeky nod in David O. Selznick’s direction. Like a Selznick film from the ’30s or ’40s, it’s rich in color and period decadence, it swells with florid melodrama and romance, and it concerns itself with the dreams of a plucky ingénue who goes from rags to riches. Only here, that ingénue is a garish monster, so consumed by diva-like egomania and narcissism that she achieves a sort of rapture simply by looking at her reflection in the mirror.
As played the wonderful Romola Garai, who was reportedly Ozon’s only choice for the role, Angel Deverell is a budding young romance novelist in early-20th-century England who envisions a life of material excess and has the talent to achieve it. Embarrassed by her humble, servile roots, living in cramped quarters above a small family grocery, Angel spends her late adolescence peering longingly at an estate called Paradise and imagining the glamorous interiors and bodice-ripping affairs behind its wrought-iron gate. A publisher (Sam Neill) agrees to take a chance on the unproven newcomer and put out her first novel, but in the first indication of her scary self-possession, Angel storms out of the office when he makes a few minor editing suggestions. Still, her novels are a smashing success with female readers, a temporary publishing bonanza in the vein of Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts.
The first half of Angel is better than the second: At its deliriously campy best, the film gets swept up in the young author’s fantasies as many of them start to come true, and it’s hard not to be charmed (or maybe just bemused) by her outrageous, almost theatrical arrogance. When reality clogs things up, however, she either has a meltdown, enters a state of total denial, or simply forces everyone and everything to conform to her will. Though Garai’s rise to wealth and prominence is pure, candy-colored delight, the film sinks a little when Angel’s fortunes change and this once-brisk confection starts to grind. Still, it’s great fun while it lasts.
Key features: In addition to two trailers, the special features include a 15-minute interview segment in which Ozon talks about his attraction to a story about an unsophisticated artist and Garai talks about the brutal frankness of Ozon’s directing style.