The best romantic comedies usually turn out to be the ones least neurotic about their genre’s inherent emotional gluttony, accepting wholesale that their characters’ lives are so effortlessly moneyed and coincidence-laden they can’t possibly be real people. If not challenging these tropes, Love Is in the Air, more barbedly titled Amour & Turbulences in its native France, gives them a vigorous workout, knowingly sarcastic in its self-awareness without falling back on the gawky meta-squealing of its American counterparts. It opens, in fact, with a litany of Hollywood clichés: A slick lawyer, Antoine (Nicolas Bedos), and a plucky sculptress, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), collide on a jumbo jet from New York to Paris, fate having conspired to dump them back together for the first time in three years…and in first class.
This reverse meet-cute allows the former couple to rehash their relationship drama one last time; Antoine is dumbstruck to learn that Julie is due to be married in four days. A rapt audience of fellow passengers provide commentary and punchlines around their bitterly argued reminiscence, but the actual flashback scenes—longer, looser, and played more seriously—add unexpected weight to the proceedings. Had the film been played in chronological order, without this framing device, the interplay between the couple would shift inexplicably from jokes-included to all-out slapstick following their breakup. Instead, the screenplay manages to insinuate that memories are always richer than the present—which, for Antoine and Julie, seems an infinity loop of cruel gags, with both man and woman taking equal knocks. Life was normal together, but it’s only grown into a comedy since they broke up.
Love Is in the Air undercuts itself in a number of ways. Antoine posits his first date with Julie—wherein he took her to the top of the Eiffel Tower in the middle of the night and magically procured a bottle of Prosecco—as unforgettably magical, but Julie reminds him that it was cheesy and didn’t really work. (“I’m sure it’ll work on the next girl,” she told him in the elevator back down, to which he replied, “It’s the champagne. It’s too ’80s.”) A vodka-drenched womanizer both before and after dating Julie, Antoine is readily depicted as the core problem in their relationship, though her daddy/trust issues begin to wear on him too. In one scene, the filmmakers shrewdly highlight the way Antoine endorsed Julie’s overweening jealousy with a hug when it was actually creeping him out, a slow-burning denial justified under good intentions that actually pushes the couple further apart.
The final choice Antoine pitches to Julie is of bored stability-versus-ecstatic insecurity: Does she want to spend the rest of her life dourly commenting on restaurant food, meticulously planning vacations, greeting her (clearly bland) husband with instantly stale enthusiasms? As Julie furrows her brow to contemplate an answer she realizes she’s already having the conversations Antoine is foreshadowing, and Sagnier has the chops to plug at least three different emotions into a crooked smile that lasts maybe half a second. But Love Is in the Air suffers in its third act, as the reveal of how Antoine actually ruined their relationship is totally inconsistent with his heretofore character, and the decisive final 15 minutes are so over-determined that they strain badly against the cool-headed, cheeky wisdom of the prior 90. It doesn’t matter too much, as the film is so comfortable in its own skin as a rom-com that a pat finale is its only truly foregone conclusion.