With Woody Allen currently off his game, it appears that Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri, the co-writers and stars of such respectable middle-class comedies as Un Air De Famille and The Taste Of Others, are ably filling the void. The natural choice for Best Screenplay award at last year's Cannes Film Festivalif only because the other entries told their stories visuallyLook At Me has all the hallmarks of past Jaoui-Bacri collaborations: Lively dialogue, unimpeachable intelligence and good taste, fine performances, and not a single unexpected or memorable moment. Look At Me is an appetizer without the main course, perfectly well-wrought yet determinedly minor, exactly the sort of movie that comes to mind when people think about typical French arthouse fare. But the film satisfies in much the same way Allen's movie-a-year comedies used to satisfy, so perhaps there are worse things than artistic complacency.
In the Parisian literary world, where acclaimed authors are treated like rock stars, Bacri plays a popular novelist who's always the center of attention, and he carries himself like he's entitled to every ounce of it. Meanwhile, his plump, insecure daughter (Marilou Berry) works to establish her own identity with her powerful singing voice. But she finds few listeners, apart from an earnest young would-be journalist (Keine Bouhiza) whom she suspects desires access to her father. That access becomes a major opportunity when Berry's music teacher (Jaoui), the wife of a struggling author (Laurent Grévill), uses her newfound proximity to Bacri to advance her husband's literary career. When Grévill's book sales start taking off, however, all the attention leads him to distance himself from his longtime friends and associates, and he starts to resemble his idol Bacri a little too closely. All parties eventually converge on a country estate, where they gather for Berry's anxious choir recital.
Though Look At Me centers mostly on Berry, whose manner touchingly registers her insecurities, the movie belongs to Bacri, an intense Michael Ironside look-alike whose character's self-regard is rivaled only by his contempt for other people. In the film's funniest scene, Berry attempts to reconcile with his trophy wife (Virginie Desarnauts) by playing pretend with their young daughter, but after ingesting a few imaginary vittles, he's done being a father. Too bad the filmmakers overplay his inattention and narcissism by having his cell phone go off at every opportunity, in a cheap signifier that needs to be retired soon. Had Look At Me focused on him, instead of sprinkling its mild insights and witticisms around a large ensemble, it might have been more resonant. As is, it's merely diverting.