Lack of consistency dulls ‘The New Girlfriend’

By Bob Bloom

“The New Girlfriend” is a frustrating movie, mainly because writer-director Francois Ozon cannot settle on a tone for the feature.

At times it feels like a comedy; at other moments, it shifts to erotic romance. Still other scenes play like melodrama.

This continual swing keeps you from connecting with any of the characters in this French import.

The film starts with young Claire (Anais Demoustier) giving a eulogy at the funeral of Laura, her closest and dearest friend since childhood.

In flashbacks, we see how they met, grew up together, found boyfriends and married.

Before she died, Laura gave birth to a daughter, Lucie, whom her husband, David (Romain Duris), is now caring for.

A few weeks after the funeral, Claire unexpectedly stops by David’s house to see how he and the baby are coping.

She finds David dressed in women’s clothing. Shocked, he explained that Laura knew of his inclination and allowed it as long as he never left the house dressed as a woman.

The death of Laura, he explains, rekindled his desire for cross-dressing.

Slowly and reluctantly, Claire begins helping and enabling David, while keeping her husband, Gilles (Raphael Personnaz), in the dark about David’s predilection.

David’s obsession continues. Claire dubs his female persona, Virginia.

Grudgingly, Claire takes Virginia shopping at the mall.

Meanwhile, Claire’s emotions and mental state are in turmoil. She begins to have erotic dreams about David, Virginia and even Laura.

She and David/Virginia become bolder in taking riskier ventures.

This all would have made for a most interesting film if Ozon could have decided on a singular attitude. Instead, the tenor of “The New Girlfriend” changes from scene to scene and from situation to situation.

It is difficult to decide what kind of movie you are watching — a Hitchcockian “Vertigo”-like thriller or a Sydney Pollack-inspired “Tootsie”-esque comedy.

What does grab you are the performances of Demoustier and, especially, Duris. Duris creates a sensitive and moving character, a confused soul, lost without his wife, who was the anchor of his life.

Demoustier portrays Claire as an enabler, who soothes her pain and grief over Laura’s death by becoming David/Virginia’s accomplice.

The movie’s finale is a letdown and a bit too pat. However, “The New Girlfriend” is a deeply felt experience that challenges your notions of normalcy, love and family.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.

 

THE NEW GIRLFRIEND
2½ stars out of 4
(R), sexual content, nudity, language

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