I couldn’t help but spend a great deal of the seemingly interminable running time of My Wife Is an Actress thinking of the moment in Stardust Memories when Woody Allen is asked if he finds it hard directing himself and answers, “No, I just find it hard to resist the temptation to give myself too many extreme close-ups.” This is something I usually think of only in connection with Kenneth Branagh movies, but France’s Yvan Attal gives Mr. Branagh a run for his money in the narcissism department — and with much less reason. Apparently, M. Attal finds his own face endlessly fascinating and monumentally expressive. I found it somewhat less so, but could have forgiven this had his film been better in other areas. It wasn’t. It’s a sort of generic romantic comedy with a somewhat creepy reactionary subtext — the kind of movie that ends up festooning U.S. art house screens for no reason other than the fact that it’s in French (well, mostly) with English subtitles and is magically significant because of that. What’s disappointing about this is the fact that the premise could have been an interesting one. Attal plays a sportswriter married to a famous actress (played by his real-life wife, Charlotte Gainsbourg). Despite the fact that they seem to have something less than nothing in common (an idea that explored 60 years ago with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year), they seem to have a fairly stable marriage — at least when they aren’t having to deal with his sister and the sister’s husband (who spend the entire film arguing about whether or not to have their unborn son circumcised). The problem arises when someone suggests that the wife’s onscreen lovemaking scenes ought to make him jealous. Now, this could have been explored intelligently, but, no, the movie goes for broad farce and falls back on the old PR saw that “it’s only acting,” deftly ignoring the fact that the actors are also human beings. (Anyone who thinks the line is never crossed is advised to listen to Michael Winner’s audio commentary on the DVD of I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Isname concerning a scene between Oliver Reed and Wendy Craig.) Of course, to suggest this possibility would mean bringing Attal’s own marriage, vanity, and virility into question — and that’s not happening; not in a film by a man who arbitrarily inserts a line about finding two men kissing “disgusting” to endorse his manliness. Worse, the film largely wastes the attractive and talented Gainsboug. As written, it’s hard to believe she doesn’t just tell her husband go watch another soccer match and get over it, while she succumbs to her co-star’s advances. And it’s hard not to lose patience with her when she doesn’t do this. Her co-star is played with some aplomb by Terence Stamp, who manages to make his character appealing despite the script’s best efforts to turn him into a pretentious caricature. (Attal seems just as nervous about anything that suggests intellectualism as he is about his manliness.) There is one mildly diverting sequence involving the requirements of shooting a nude love scene, and a few interesting quirks on the soundtrack (I didn’t really expect to her a jazz rendition of an obscure Paul McCartney song in the film), but this is hardly enough to justify wasting the other 90-odd minutes of your time.
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