I Love America – now on Amazon Prime – is filmmaker Lisa Azuelos’ semi-autobiographical movie about a Parisian woman who decides Los Angeles is the ideal place for a personal-spiritual-psychological makeover. And also a good place to get some! Sophie Marceau (who we stupide Americains will recognize from Braveheart or as a Bond girl in The World is Not Enough) anchors this mediumweight rom-com, but can she elevate it above its cliched premise? As any good parent would tell their kid when the answer is actually “no”: We’ll see.
The Gist: A less-than-halcyon memory: Lisa’s barely out of toddlerdom when her mother drops her off at a boarding school in the Parisian countryside, tells the schoolmarm she won’t be picking her up at Christmas, and leaves abruptly without saying goodbye. Now, Lisa (Sophie Marceau) is middle-aged, a filmmaker, escaping France to Los Angeles where she’ll stay with her friend Luka (Djanis Bouzyani) while working on her next screenplay. Her mother is fine with her jetting off despite being gravely ill back home, in the care of Lisa’s sisters. Here in SoCal, she hopes to end her three-year celibacy streak and maybe find love. Lisa’s barely off the plane and attending a Halloween party with Luka when she gets the call – her mother is close to death. She’ll have to fly back if she wants to say goodbye. A man in a grim reaper costume walks by her like an overwrought symbol in a corny-ass movie. “I wanted to change my life, but death got in my way,” she says in voiceover, which might be her diary or might be her screenplay or might be both. She flies back to France.
And then, having sludged through complicated emotional stuff, she flies back to L.A., where Luka convinces her to create a dating-app profile. Her mom is dead and now she’s, well, horny. We get more flashbacks – in 1982 she moved in with her playboy father, who wasn’t particularly present for her, although he used to take her to discos, enough that it prompts Lisa to ponder, in memoir-voiceover later in the movie, the profundities of disco balls. Lisa lays by the pool, goes to yoga class, chats with a wannabe-actor cab driver, gets a tarot reading and is she working on a film or what? Has she directed anything we might’ve seen? Big movies? Little artsy movies? Who knows. The movie, this movie we’re watching, is not interested in that, although I’m pretty sure this movie we’re watching is the movie we never see her writing. But we do spend time with Luka’s pet turtle, who wanders off one day, and enjoy a flashback of the time young Lisa befriended a bunny at boarding school and then later was forced to eat it for dinner.
Lisa starts dating. First is an age-appropriate dufus with a shitty mustache who has an allergic reaction at the restaurant and makes Lisa jam his epipen in his buttcheek. Then she aims for 29-year-old John (Colin Woodell), who makes up for Mustache Guy by hurtling her into the throes of ecstasy. She goes home for Christmas and, like the worst person ever, gives her sisters and daughters ugly Christmas sweaters. Then she gets a happy-Xmas call from John, and we cut away to his end of the phone and guess what, right, he’s also wearing an ugly Christmas sweater. Back in L.A., she continues living an untethered life symbolized by multiple sequences set in aerial yoga class; she must’ve directed a couple Marvel superhero blockbusters and is therefore rich as hell enough to exist poolside so often. There are other episodes that I won’t get into as her life bumps and flows, bumps and flows, bumps and flows along – can’t tell you all the banalities lest I be tossed in spoiler prison.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: I Love America is some serious Eat Pray Love rich-white-lady crapola, although with not quite as much excess.
Performance Worth Watching: Marceau affords this clunky material much more grace than it deserves.
Memorable Dialogue: Lisa voiceover: “My understanding of quantum physics comes from disco.”
Sex and Skin: Boobs, butts, a vexatious scene in which Lisa goes on a date with a manspreading nudist and there’s always an object in the foreground blocking the naughty bits.
Our Take: I Love America features two scenes in which an irritated woman repeatedly scowls at Lisa and Luka because they yak yak yak about their sexcapades all through aerial yoga class. I am that woman, minus the aerial yoga, because regular earthbound yoga is just fine for me, and probably a lot cheaper. Also, I am male, but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to the rare movie in which a middle-aged actress gets work as a middle-aged protagonist. Marceau gives us every reason to love her character and performance, but there’s so much working against her: Blundering dialogue, choppy pacing, overcooked whimsy, swing!-and-a-miss comedy, lite-saltine characters, borderline-insipid flashbacks. It has no flow and little style. Azuelos seems to have unsuccessfully fished around for the proper tone, and just ended up patchwork-quilting a collection of scenes together.
Her screenplay trafficks in all the usual stuff, minus the detail it needs to flesh out these people and situations. (Although the practicalities of their physical fitness are addressed, those pertaining to the fancy real estate/vintage Ford Mustang lifestyle are ignored. They’re buff, but do they ever actually work to pay the bills?) Midlife crisis, check. Gay best friend, check. Creative excursion, check. Wacky misfire dates, check. Hunky slab of younger-man love interest, check. Annoying scene with a fortune teller, check. Silly misunderstandings, quasi-poignant interludes, introspective voiceover, check check check. See, the French can make vapid American-style movies, too! Check please.
Our Call: SKIP IT. I Love America is the live, laugh, love placard in the main-floor half-bath of life. More like live, laugh, SHOVE it in a pit!
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.