Ever go to a bar and get unexpectedly cornered by that guy/girl who’s absolutely, and unjustifiably, convinced of his or her own adorableness? Cédric Klapisch’s Russian Dolls is the cinematic equivalent of that annoying halfwit, an insistently cute follow-up to his U.N.-flavored coming-of-age comedy L’Auberge Espagnole in which the director’s shallow stylistic ticks (fast-forwarding effects, scenes composed of photo snapshots, and whimsical fantasy interludes) preclude identifiable emotional or behavioral reality.
Klapisch is hailed in some brain-addled corners as a modern-day Truffaut and this sequel once again follows his own vapid variation on Antoine Doinel, Xavier (Romain Duris), as he searches for professional and personal contentment, a state he finds elusive even though he’s ditched economics to become a writer. Unable to get his novel published, Xavier makes a living as a journalist, scripter of TV romances, and autobiographical ghostwriter, jobs that eventually put him back in touch with many of his former Spanish apartment roomies, including French ex Martine (Audrey Tautou), tough Belgian lesbian Isabelle (Cécile de France), culturally insensitive Brit William (Kevin Bishop), now preparing to marry Russian ballerina Natacha (Evguenya Obraztsova), and Martin’s redheaded sis Wendy (Kelly Reilly), who has amorous feelings for Xavier.
Requiring intimate familiarity with its predecessor, Russian Dolls begins with a clip-laden credit sequence seemingly modeled after ’80s sitcom intros, and quickly goes downhill from there, the director’s fractured plot chronology, knowing narration, and flip-flopping between humor and romance allowing for nothing as complex as an actual interior life to exist in any of his comic strip protagonists. Action dictates character in Klapisch’s cinema, so that when Xavier refuses to exit a train to be with Wendy (and thus scrap his plans to screw a model), the reason is not so much that he’s a conflicted cad but, rather, that the director desperately desires a slow-motion single take of Reilly walking and crying on a station platform set to singer-songwriter tripe.
Despite the film’s lack of discerning insight into thirtysomething aimlessness, Duris—like much of the supremely attractive cast—has an effervescent charm that makes him difficult to dislike, especially during an inspired bit in which his job interview bullshitting is accompanied by the appearance of background Xavier doppelgangers playing bouncy tunes on a flute. The superseding sound one’s apt to hear during most of Russian Dolls’ persistently playful antics, however, is that of incessant audience groaning.