The Basics: Who said all French girls were thin? The heroine of this trenchant comedy that masquerades as a family drama never got in on the national diet plan. Twenty-year-old Lolita (Marilou Berry) is the antithesis of her lithe teenage namesake, and she doesn't really give a damn.
The Catch: Well, actually she does. An aspiring opera singer, she frets endlessly about weight, but not in the usual way of crash dieting and constantly moaning about her thighs. She is consumed instead with how she is judged for her plumpness, and for this she blames those around her. In some people this might constitute paranoia brought on by a bad self-image, but in this young woman's case, she's absolutely correct.
Lolita is surrounded by supposed loved ones who thwart her at every turn, and director Agnès Jaoui, who also stars as Lolita's voice coach, sets up the film as a test of wills between her heroine and the rest of the world. It's not an easy task for Berry, who needs to express a complicated mix of enormous confidence and wrenching self-doubt at the same time. She is not a likable character for most of the film '- and Jaoui never invites sympathy, pity or laughs for her either '- but Berry manages to convey a natural sweetness and tenacity that make Lolita loveable. This young woman will either stand her ground and get everyone in her orbit to stop making her feel bad about herself, or she will succumb to the vapidity and shrink away into the woodwork.
Her biggest problem is her father, Étienne (Jean-Pierre Bacri, who is also Jaoui's writing partner and ex-husband), a self-centered literary icon who is constantly calling Lolita "Daddy's big girl" and not meaning this to distinguish her from her five-year-old stepsister. Étienne uses people up quickly, seducing them with the benefits of his friendship '- money, literary contracts, fabulous lifestyles '- and then abusing them with his bad moods until they can't take it anymore and they leave.
Except Lolita. She can't leave. Her mother escaped long ago to the Antilles, and she's got no other support '- emotional or otherwise '- in her life except her father. She has survived thus far by trading on his favors to get people interested in her, which is now extending to her romantic interests and career pursuits. She draws in her voice coach, Sylvia, because Sylvia's husband (Laurent Grévill) is an aspiring writer and needs Étienne's attention. She beguiles struggling journalist Sébastien (Keine Bouhiza), initially because she offers a loan from her father.
Why It's Good:
Lolita is so used to her situation that she is completely unglued by the fact that Sylvia and Sébastien start to like her for herself. They stop wanting anything from her and simply enjoy her. Berry's face is flushed with contempt and defiance for most of the film, but she begins to soften as her character gets more comfortable with herself. She even ekes out a shy smile toward the end that is captivating for its innocence.
Jaoui's success is that she makes a film about an overweight woman who shows great emotional growth over the course of the story without that being due to losing weight or undergoing some extreme makeover. Lolita's weight is, of course, beside the point of her emotions. Jaoui is one of the few filmmakers to express that there is always so much more to it than that.
iVillage Mood Meter: Will make you throw out that French Women Don't Get Fat book and eat some chocolate
Stars: Marilou Berry, Agnès Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri
Director: Agnès Jaoui
Screenwriters: Agnès Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri
Producers: Jean-Philippe Andraca, Christian Berard
Release date: April 1, 2005, in New York and Los Angeles; later nationwide
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics