Fresh from the Jean-Pierre Jeunet quirk factory comes Amélie, a self-indulgent Montmartre-set fairy tale that’s the cinematic equivalent of a dribbling lump of caramel taffy. France’s Titanic is now the Weinstein brothers’ wet dream—a speed-laden capsule they hope to peddle to a downtrodden movie-going public before pushing on Oscar’s voting bloc. Audrey Tautou’s is the journeywoman of the film’s title, a shameless urban cleanser who’s probably too naïve to even know what the word “irony” signifies. This is a chance fable of the Tykwer kind, where love survives (or comes to fruition) in spite of all the prickly ripples in time and oh-so-cutesy bouts of O-Henry coincidence. (Chaos theory is essentially sold to audiences as a fetish, most serendipitous in one Afghan-Russian dream flourish.) Amélie is just as sweet as a Starbucks Frappuccino but watch out: it’s also fattening and bound to lacerate your cerebral soft tissue.
Amélie’s atmospheric world is made unbearable by Jeunet’s aggressive style (somewhere Michael Bay is shuddering), with secondary characters introduced through nauseating zooms and accompanying God-like narration (they hate this, they like that, cue laughter). The glass man from across the way (think Unbreakable’s Sam Jackson—only with better hair) obsesses over Renoir’s impressionist landscapes while the local grocer verbally gnaws at his simpleton assistant. So colorful! She’s a sloppy humanist at first, all but giving a blind man a coronary via a rapid-fire jaunt down a Montmartre street. In one scene, the bored girl succeeds at reuniting a man with a childhood treasure, curing his broken heart and coming face-to-face with her convoluted sense of good-heartedness, and thanks to this closeted rapscallion, petty crimes give way to loveable character uplifts. Here, the meek inherit the earth—or something to that effect.
Amélie is a criminal. Watch out, she’ll break into your apartment and pour salt in your liquor! But wait, it’s all for the better good, because the local grocer eats humble pie and his simpleton assistant gains a few brain cells in her mischievous wake. Amélie is also a girl with a startling imagination, and her flights of ingenuity give way to some of the film’s more absurd comedic flourishes; snapshots seemingly mailed by a wayward garden gnome (situated before famous landmarks) are Amélie’s way of introducing her father to the joys of world travel. Very cute, but Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) not so much. He works at a porn store but it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he were anatomically incorrect, and in his spare time he scours for discarded photo-booth pics. Obsessed with the photos of a sour-looking bald man, Nino assumes profundity is at play: Could the man be afraid of getting older, looking to leave a piece of himself behind wherever he goes? No, it’s not that deep, because if Jeunet’s visuals are all meat and potatoes, his narrative is all peas and carrots.
Because Amélie is a troublesome ingénue more successful at nursing the fragile souls of strangers than she is at tending to her sex drive, one wonders what she would do in the midst of a child rapist. (Maybe there’s a sequel in the works.) Predictably, she doesn’t practice what she preaches, so hold on to your seats when the film’s glass man—having effaced his fondness for Renoir—holds that proverbial mirror (here, a television set) up to the girl’s face. Silly goose, give way to love! France’s frothy fable may not have the sexiness of the equally mind-numbing Moulin Rouge—which also takes place in Montmartre, clearly the Ecstasy capital of the world—or the operatic pathos of Magnolia or Requiem for a Dream, but Jeunet at least admits to his speed junkiness. If it seems like Amélie is spun by a crazed circus master, take not that the orgiastic narrative takes place inside an actual carnival, but its some kind of weakness on Jeunet’s part that he can’t resist zooming into a vat of marshmallow molasses. Amélie is this year’s art-house eye candy—smug and self-infatuated, it’s definitely something to chew on, just bring a barf bag.