• Jane Austen-Inspired Wit
  • French Who Just Won't Mind Their Own Damn Business
  • "Chocolat," But No Mysterious Appearance By Johnny Depp


Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, One of the Guys Who Unleashed Delicatessen Upon the World
Amélie trying to figure out where the Moulin Rouge is so she can see the Spectacular Spectacular!

A French Rushmore for Women

Amélie is a niece of those Jane Austen lasses who, rather than partake of the joys of sex and companionship themselves, meddle in the business of others. She's got a streak of Emma, and also Princess Di: two European icons of regal goodwill, notoriously at odds with princes and Knightleys. Amélie's childhood is shaped by protective neuroses; her adult timidity celebrated as purity of heart and soul. She's sugar sweet, of course, but Amélie is in dire need of shot of vodka in her sirot, I think. So we chart her story as an awakening from a dream world in which she vicariously lives through the jollies she surreptiously procures for others. Our cheer is directed at her arrival with us in the tangible, sensual world.

Amélie suffers the aspersions Austen's critics have proffered on her novels: the story is too dainty to amount to much; the foibles of mannered people are a target unworthy the serious writer. Acceptance of this criticism depends largely on one's taste in writing; Austen's devotees, a legion dwarfing Napoleon's and Hitler's combined, delight in her delicate word play and wry humor—a tone to match its subject. Quite shocking that Jeunet—last seen resurrecting Ripley in the fourth Alien, scaring the kiddies with an avante-guard fairytale freakshow The City of the Lost Children, and serving up the tenants above the Delicatessen—here tries to create a cotton candy carnival ride. As with Austen, Jeunet just wants us to have fun, and the swift spirit of Austen's prose is somewhat captured in his opening sequence. We meet Amélie and her crew at breakneck speed; the jokes whizz by, stop momentarily, then buzz away. Much of what substitutes for character development is presented to us by lists of peculiar likes and dislikes. This sounds like a trap, but Jeunet pulls it off fairly well. The generous would say that his neat camera tricks (a sad Amélie cries, and then liquifies and crashes to the floor, etc.) evoke the sharp playfulness of Austenian prose; the less-impressed would call it gimmickry without purpose.

I'll give Jeunet the benefit of the doubt. I laughed; I rollicked; I enjoyed the first half of the film. Without much story to tell, though, Amélie's adventures wear on us a bit, like the life of the party hanging around after everyone's gone home. At least Jeunet doesn't attempt political moralizing, like Lasse Hallstrom's similiarly themed, but entirely awful Chocolat. That film awkwardly attempted some strange connection between religious oppression and the talismanic power of bon bons. In fact, Audrey Tautou, the young actress blessed with the part of Amélie, kind of reminds me of a bon bon herself. Anyway, Amélie aims low and hits its mark, rallying masses of introverts to celebrate their own social awkwardness. I kept wishing that Amélie would somehow run into Max Fisher, formally of Rushmore Academy, who should now be on a foreign semester from some Ivy League university. They are opposite personalities (Max the aggressive extrovert; Amélie the shy wallflower), but I could picture them together, holding hands in Montmarte, discovering that their common bond is sexual energy channeled into an endearing lack of social grace. They've both overcome that to find happiness during our time with them at the movies, and I think that's what has drawn record audiences to Amélie, and why Rushmore is on its way to genuine classic status: Both empathesize with who we were, and who we are now.


The Pitch:
1 Delicatessen
1 Chocolat
1 Rushmore
3 Amélie
See It For:

Amélie discovers a French youth's treasure box containing assorted Jerry Lewis pictures.