French comedy-drama Jeune Femme shows promise, but it just doesn’t really work in its current form. Laetitia Dosch is in every scene as Paula, a 31-year-old who’s been broken up with by her photographer boyfriend. The film opens with her smashing her head against their apartment door and, during the resulting trip to the hospital, she uses the opportunity to vent to the nurse.
After the life shock, Paula has to start pulling her weight. First on the agenda: finding a place to say. Second: some form of income. Her wandering leads her to a job in a mall while babysitting in exchange for a measly room in a Parisian house. She also rekindles a friendship with an old schoolmate, which provides her with some company in the absence of her estranged parents.
While some sections play out like a twist on the melancholy musings of Inside Llewyn Davis — Paula, too, is burdened with a feline friend — most of the film is played for gentle comedy. Had this been a project for one of the stars of the brilliant New York-set comedy TV show Broad City, for example, they might have been able to turn Paula’s hopeless hero into someone really lovable. Instead, her multitude of character failures — she’s stubborn, childish and boring — become difficult to sympathise with.
Dosch does a fair job, but the script lets her down. She’s strong in that early scene at the doctor’s office. With a point of view shot from the doctor’s perspective, she stares right into the audience’s soul through the window-like frame. It also takes that impressive early scene to warm up to her fast-talking delivery, which can become a struggle with subtitles.
There’s no mistaking the film for being set anywhere other than Paris — Paula references her hatred for the city more than enough — but director Léonor Serraille does nothing with the setting, and distinctive French exteriors are desperately few and far between. Instead, Serraille uses Paris as a New York knock-off. She even utilises jazz interludes, which will only remind viewers of countless classic New York-set comedies.
Dare I say it, but Jeune Femme is as ripe for an American remake as any film I’ve seen on this year’s festival circuit. Shift the action to the Big Apple and get the Broad City masterminds, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, to write it. Then, with one of them in the lead and one as the school friend, I think “Young Woman” could make for an enjoyable, and effectively melancholy, female-led comedy. As it stands, though, Serraille’s film is a missed opportunity.
Benedict Seal (@benedictseal) is a UK-based film journalist for the likes of Bloody Disgusting, VODzilla.co and New On Netflix.