Change of Plans: Directed by Daniele Thompson

By Jeff Farr
“Change of Plans,” Daniele Thompson’s new film, takes place in that fantasy Paris where the most important things are what you are going to eat next and who you are going to make love to next. Little else in the world is of much consequence in this dinner party movie.
Everybody in this Paris is straight, white, in their 40s, and well-to-do. The children are mentioned in passing, but none are ever seen. The real world, with its wars and various catastrophes, is never so rude as to intrude. Couples argue, mostly politely, as they drive past a lit-up Eiffel Tower. Their marriages may be in tatters, but isn’t it a belle soirée?
This summery film may offer older audiences some chuckles and a decent dose of escapism from the world’s current woes, but it does not go much beyond that. It is somehow comforting to think that somewhere in the world, grownups are not taking life too seriously, greeting whatever drama comes their way with a practiced nonchalance — but is it believable?
“Change of Plans” centers on a June 21 dinner party and a planned dinner party for the same group of 40somethings exactly one year later. The couples that gathered the first time have been in many ways altered over the course of the year, the seeds of those changes wildly apparent at the first dinner.
Our hosts are the charming couple of Piotr (Dany Boon) and ML (Karin Viard). Piotr is the heart of the movie, basically a househusband when we first encounter him. He has taken a break from gainful employment and is trying to cure his depression and figure out what next to do with his life. ML, meanwhile, thrives professionally as a lawyer with a killer instinct.
The other guests include another lawyer, Lucas (Patrick Thompson), who hopes to recruit ML into his firm, and his slightly unhinged but very sexy wife, Sarah (Emmanuelle Seigner). Surprise surprise, Sarah turns out to be a college amour of Piotr’s. Before the original dinner is over, they have rekindled their romance — just a few feet away from the rest of the party. Despite all the lovemaking supposedly going on in this film, their bathroom kiss is the closest “Change of Plans” gets to any sex scene.
There is also a medical couple: oncologist Alain (Patrick Bruel) and gynecologist Melanie (Marina Fois), who is having a torrid affair with a jockey. ML’s sister, Juliette (Marina Hands), comes with her much older actor friend Erwann (Patrick Chesnais), leading everyone to speculate on the exact nature of their relationship. Fear not, in time everyone will find out.
And no, that is not all: ML and Juliette’s father, Henri (Pierre Arditi), from whom Juliette is estranged, has shown up in town. Throw in ML’s vivacious flamenco teacher, Manuela (Blanca Li), and ML’s handyman lover, Jean Louis (Laurent Stocker), and you have got yourself quite a party — or the apocalypse. We wish. In this film, despite ML’s welcome warning that a “dinner where it all comes out is hell,” things never blow up, they just simmer and simmer.
For a film in which so much goes down, “Change of Plans” is oddly languid. The most dramatic points in the story — a tragic accident that paralyses Melanie and the revelation of ML’s surprise pregnancy at age 42, leading all of her friends to ask her, “Who’s the father?” — are curiously bereft of drama. No one cries, no one screams, no one breaks down, no one reflects: Everything is relentlessly shrugged off. For the audience, too, not much is at stake here.
A slightly discomforting scene in which Piotr and Melanie go looking for newfangled wheelchairs to accommodate her new condition is emblematic of what is off kilter here. It as if they are test-driving new cars; as if a year after her accident, she is completely over losing control of her body and finding it even somehow chic. How are we supposed to be take this but with a squirm in our seats and a nervous yawn? This is a comedic soap opera with too much soap; a little more opera might have helped ground this film and make it more moving and memorable.
Piotr and Sarah’s affair is the most compelling of all the subplots, principally because Piotr is the most compelling character. Boon conveys a kind of harmless befuddlement for Piotr: He is lost, and he knows it. If anyone knows what he can do about it, he is more than willing to listen and try. At the same time, he has such little resolve. The end of the film finds him “going with the flow” into the next stage of his life, becoming a father again with ML in his 40s. Seigner, who was so vibrant in Julian Schnabel’s “Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (2007), is overly spaced out in this film. Her Sarah seems drugged most of the time, which may have been what Thompson was going for. Sarah is indeed a troubled, unrealized woman, point taken. But her attraction for Piotr is hard to fathom, as is her rather sudden rebirth as a successful writer — after which she still seems out of it. Supposedly Piotr’s love has helped her rediscover herself, but she looks and acts the same as before.
Beginning and ending with the flamenco dance, Thompson, who cowrote the screenplay with her son, Christopher, is trying to remind us in “Change of Plans” that life is above all a dance. Why stand on the sidelines? Join the dance and rediscover yourself. Her argument would be more convincing if she gave her characters more of a reality check. Instead, she lets them get away with dancing only in their comfort zone.