Every actor in the strange ensemble comedy Madame is someone who deserves to hit the screen more often: The consistently reliable Toni Collette, the (as of late) little seen Harvey Keitel, Almodóvar mainstay Rossy De Palma, and Brit character actor Michael Smiley (Kill List). They all are a treat to watch, but are poorly served by a movie with considerable identity issues: Is it a comedy of manners? Slapstick? Drama?
Madame is set in Paris for no discernible reason beyond the sights. Bob and Anne (Keitel and Collette) are an American couple enduring unspoken crises: Bob is short in cash and forced to sell his beloved Caravaggio. Anne, his aging trophy wife, is sexually frustrated and considering an affair. They are preparing a lavish dinner that may solve their problems when they realize there are 13 sits at the table, a harbinger of bad luck.
To solve the impasse, Anne dresses the maid, María (De Palma), in haute couture to pass her for a Spanish socialite. As the classic romantic comedy trope goes, María’s earthy charms captivate the guests, particularly a British art broker (Smiley) unaware of the ruse.
Even though the setting is ancient, De Palma makes it work. She is a delight as the reluctant accomplice, whose religion-based misgivings fall by the wayside one by one. Unfortunately, Madame is not her movie: Keitel and Collette have storylines that never take off. The Anne character could have been a delightful villain. Instead we have to put up with her run-of-the-mill midlife crisis. Also, one shouldn’t cast the star of Bad Lieutenant to play the straight man in anything. Kind of a waste.
The film is intermittently amusing and sticks the landing with a beauty of a gut punch. The moral of the story: When in doubt, go with Rossy. Two earthy prairie dogs.
Madame opens today Friday the 13th in Regina, at the Rainbow Cinema Golden Mile – Studio 7.