Céline Devaux’s hyperactive rom-com has enough creativity and engagement to distract from its unevenness.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
“Superficiality is for another generation,” Jeanne Mayer (Blanche Gardin) screams to herself. Instead, her anxieties say it to her, visualized through sinuous, sketchy animation; they demand a lot. She can’t focus on her own body. Oh, no; that’d be too vain. It’s okay to appreciate the glances of men on the street, if just occasionally, though. It feels good, after all. But wait: she can’t give into hedonism. And she may be stressed, but having a bit to drink before noon? That’s just alcoholic behavior. How about labeling her a “wino” instead? Yeah, that’s better.
Because no matter what, she’s definitely not depressed. Her job, having developed a device that helps clean the ocean of pollution, is too productive for that. Often a parodical collection of millennial traits, Jeanne’s mind compartmentalizes and rejects itself to the degree that it gives the film in question an engaging, if not particularly novel, challenge. In Everybody Loves Jeanne, the title character’s mind declares what she isn’t. Such is the basis of its farce. It’s a hyperactive, almost grating comedy, but it’s such due to its lead rather than despite her. It works just enough to justify its quirks. Well, most of them.
The setup for Céline Devaux’s feature debut is simple: Jeanne’s environmental work has come to a halt. Her business imploded due to a botched television appearance. She’s now fallen into debt while—as she and her brother, Simon (Maxence Tual), discover—inheriting her mother’s apartment in Lisbon. Alas, it’s because she’s killed herself. Jeanne decides to sell the flat to stabilize herself financially and, while en route, runs into an old classmate named—wait for it—Jean (Laurent Lafitte). “I always thought you’d die young,” he reveals with the utmost sincerity. “I’m so glad you’re still alive.”
She doesn’t respond to him at first. With that lack of response, Jean pops up to see Jeanne, only for the two to have to play wife and husband when a realtor interrupts them. Voilà! Jeanne now has a sort-of surrogate child in Jean’s niece, Théo (Lisa Mirey). Cue the two’s budding relationship. But while Everybody Loves Jeanne is a farce, it’s often two-fold. There’s the aforementioned inner turmoil of Jeanne’s depression that drives her pathos. Then there are interpersonal conflicts like these that, while character-driven, exist more to drive the plot.
The former work better than the latter, thanks to Devaux’s extemporaneous character work. The delineation between inner perception and outer portrayal as it relates to Jeanne gives the film a texture. The animations, which Devaux also drew, are another plus with their succinctness and fluidity. The moments more akin to a traditional romantic comedy are when Everybody Loves Jeanne skirts more toward the ordinary in construction. The themes as they pertain to Jeanne’s age, that generation she alludes to, salvage what ends up on screen.
Because while Devaux’s script is most at home on a scene-by-scene basis, its episodic nature lacks the edge later on. It’s often just too literal. However, Gardin’s performance smooths out the characterization, her affect on a spectrum between blunted and fearful. Lafitte, meanwhile, lends kindness to Jean; the role could have easily read as implacable, even invasive. The two play against each other easily, at least to propel the film as it starts to drag past the one-hour mark. At just over 90 minutes, it moves well enough.
Suffice it to say that Everybody Loves Jeanne isn’t revolutionary. However, it’s at home in its fixations regarding age and personal regression, whether financial or familial. Its detachment fits alongside its gallows humor. Its craft, meanwhile, is earnest enough to evade the broad irony it could have fallen into. Perhaps Devaux’s best decision here is to forgo maturity by and large. The film may be slight in the end, but as for that superficiality it fears? It avoids it, and it seems that’s all that matters.
Everybody Loves Jeanne is now streaming on Mubi.