Parisian pharmacist Alice Ovet (Alice Taglioni) has a lifelong obsession with the films of Woody Allen. To the extent that she frequently shares imaginary conversations with the great director and comedian whose wry personal philosophies influence her entire outlook on life. In the real world Alice has been heartbroken and lonely ever since her first love, Pierre (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) married her attractive sister, Hélène (Marine Delterme). Now she finds herself unexpectedly torn between one suave suitor and the cynical yet charming and good-hearted Victor (Patrick Bruel) who may not share her love of Woody Allen but helps her gain a new perspective on life.
Given Woody Allen has lately been on the receiving end of feelings considerably less than adulation, Paris-Manhattan is a timely reminder that in Europe at least he is still held in considerable esteem. Writer-director Sophie Lellouche conceived her directorial debut as a loving homage complete with Play It Again, Sam style imaginary conversations between lovelorn Alice and her idol relayed through snippets of dialogue from classic Woody Allen films that are interwoven with some ingenuity. It is fascinating to see a French filmmaker project their romantic fantasies onto Allen's cinematic universe when fans are so accustomed to seeing the reverse given the latter's well-established obsession with European cinema. Unfortunately, while not without its charms, Paris-Manhattan is a feather-weight concoction, a beguiling denouement bereft of a compelling preceding seventy minutes. Disjointed storytelling that keeps viewers at an emotional distance, lines that are mildly engaging yet nowhere as witty as Allen at his best and an overriding sense of directionless leave one with the nagging sense that this does not do anything spectacular enough to earn its big romantic climax.
Supposedly central to the plot is the tension between Alice's devotion to the romantic fantasies woven by Woody Allen and the pleasures of tangible relationships in the real world that Victor assures her are infinitely more rewarding. It is strange that Lellouche would hold up Allen's films as an example of wish-fulfillment fantasy when by and large his work is characterized by an uncompromising, warts-and-all depiction of love, loss and relationships. Moreover some critics felt lead actress Alice Taglioni was simply too attractive to convince as a lovelorn neurotic. However, it is not her looks so much as her character's sexual confidence and forthright manner that leaves her quite unlike your typical Woody Allen protagonist. A rather ridiculous albeit comic scene wherein Alice helps a man robbing her pharmacy escape with a handful of choice Woody Allen DVDs in the hope of steering him onto the right path does not really endear her and leaves the character looking downright delusional.
Aside from some familiarly minimalist opening credits and a melancholy jazz score, Lelouche avoids delving too heavily into pastiche though the characters' disenchantment with modern life and relentless self-analysis certainly rings true of Allen's output. A meandering narrative entangles itself in numerous sub-plots that do not really go anywhere such as Hélène's fears over her teenage daughter's burgeoning love life and her family's comical investigation into Pierre's suspected infidelity which reaches an unexpected though ill-defined conclusion. At least with the latter the film seems to be trying to make some point about the characters projecting their own neuroses onto other couples but does so in a fairly half-hearted way. At least the performances prove engaging with Taglioni and Bruel an undeniably charismatic pairing and when the inevitable special guest star is unveiled he lights up the movie with some much needed warmth and élan.