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  Lou! Daughter knows best
Year: 2014
Director: Julien Neel
Stars: Ludivine Sagnier, Kyan Khojandi, Lola Lasseron, Nathalie Baye, Julie Ferrier, Eden Hoch, Joshua Mazé, Lily Taieb, Léa Nataf, Virgile Hurard, Téo Yacoub, Sascha Vassort, Anne Agbadou-Masson, Winston Ong, François Rollin
Genre: Comedy, Romance, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Lou (Lola Lasseron) is twelve years old, smart as a whip, creative and dreamy, and lives in a colourful Parisian neighborhood with her absurdly immature Mum (Ludivine Sagnier). They spend their days making art, playing with their cat and dining at an Italian restaurant run by Chinese chefs. Secretly besotted with Tristan (Joshua Mazé), the handsome boy next door, Lou spies on him from afar and chronicles his every move in her journal much to the bemusement of her best friend, Mina (Eden Hoch). Everything changes when bohemian musician Richard (Kyan Khojandi) moves next door and catches Mum's eye. Quickly seizing the chance to shake Mum out of the doldrums, Lou decides to play matchmaker.

Quirky with a capital Q this pastel pretty French fantasy won't be to everyone's taste but those receptive to its aims will find plenty to enjoy. Adapting his own comic book, artist turned first-time filmmaker Julien Neel conjures a defiantly girly retro-Eighties French pop culture infected parallel world where slice of life humour co-exists with surreal flights of fancy. Pop -up storybooks come alive with cut-out animation, a magical trunk leads to a glowing pink den for girls only, Mum's sexy psychedelic science fiction fantasy visualized as a cross between an anime and Barbarella (1967), cinema's coolest game of laser tag. While stylistically reminiscent of that queen bee of quirky French comedies, Amélie (2001), Lou! Lines towards the recent French trend for retro children's comic adaptations, e.g. Boule & Bill (2013) and Petit Nicolas (2009). To a degree Lou! also plays as the French equivalent of recent American tween comedy-dramas like Dear Dumb Diary (2013) and Alice, Upside Down (2007) focusing on the anxieties of an adolescent girl with a propensity for cartoon fantasies.

It is a visually entrancing film although foremost a character piece. Neel structures an awkward, borderline non-existent plot around a string of non-sequitor gags. The frothy, feather-weight drama occasionally struggles to maintain momentum but the characters remain likeable and the world they inhabit is charming in a way only whimsical French comedies can be. Plus the gags, notably Lou's hilarious home video soap opera parody with a cast of Barbie dolls a la Todd Haynes' Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, are genuinely funny. Young lead Lola Lasseron is a delight as the cheerful, easygoing heroine. Lasseron's more famous co-star Ludivine Sagnier also acquits herself memorably, near-unrecognizable in thick specs and a mousy brown wig. Even her body language is different, reflecting Sagnier's considerable skill as one of France's premier actresses. Among the supporting players Lily Taieb exhibits star potential as motormouth goth chick Marie-Emilie.

Although Neel interweaves an endearingly awkward adolescent romance between Lou and dreamy Harry Styles look-alike boy next door Tristan the main thrust of the narrative interestingly turns the conventional mother-daughter relationship on its head. In terms of characterization the film exhibits a level of emotional complexity that elevates it above those tween films that merely pander to an adolescent mindset. Far from a stroppy, self-involved little madam, Lou is a bright, big-hearted, sweet-natured kid with a disarmingly mature attitude to life, love and relationships. Lou's mom is more like a nerdy big sister whom she endeavors to reconnect with life and shield from the plot's sole antagonist: the sour Grand-mère (Nathalie Baye). She hasn't a kind word for anyone, disapproves of everything and finally pushes Lou too far. Along with gorgeous visuals the film has a fantastic bossa-nova meets electro-pop soundtrack with Sagnier once more revealing her lovely singing voice in a closing song co-sung with Lasseron. As inconsequential as the film seems on the surface it conjures an appealing world one could happily revisit.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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