The hideously bloated La Vie En Rose, a biopic of the iconic 20th century French singer Edith Piaf, joins a glut of bleary post-Pollack melodramas about famous monsters and the monstrousness of fame. It joins the Edie Sedgwick bio Factory Girl, Franco Zeffirelli's Forever Callas, and last year's laughable Copying Beethoven in chronicling the life and times of an icon who made great contributions to the world of art, but could be counted upon to ruin just about any halfway-civilized dinner party.
As La Vie En Rose explicates in exhaustive detail, Piaf had a sturdy rationale for her diva antics. Played as an adult by Marion Cotillard, Piaf endured a life of sub-Dickensian misery as a child, growing up in a low-rent whorehouse and later living with a virile brute of a dad who left the circus to strike out as a freelance contortionist with little success. Piaf's upbringing leaves her with a taste for the gutter and the hustlers, pimps, and parasites that inhabit it, even after she rises to the giddy heights of stardom as the voice and soul of Paris, the legendary "Little Sparrow" with the nasal, honking, headache-inducing speaking voice of an agitated goose.
La Vie En Rose documents Piaf's life as an endless series of tantrums, screaming matches, and drunken orgies of deplorable behavior. The film is at its best when exploring the machinery of pop stardom, how Piaf's feral rough edges were tamed but ever-present and how she learned to use her hands as an enormously expressive instrument. Cotillard's face has a lot of character, with a squirmy vulnerability and emotional nakedness that favorably recalls Anna Karina or Giulietta Masina, especially in close-up and when singing or silent. Then Cotillard starts speaking (or rather squawking) again, and the effect is ruined as the shrill, drunken, drug-addled bisexual girl-woman icon gets reduced to an ogre. Rose stuffs enough melodrama for a dozen big-screen soap-operas into its shapeless, meandering 140-minute running time, yet still finds room on its plate to introduce a doomed child into Piaf's life for the last 10 minutes or so. For all its florid pretensions and epic length, the film's overwrought take on its subject's not-so-rosy life leaves behind no lasting insight.