Coup de Chance (2024)

Neils Schneider and Lou de Laâge star in Woody Allen’s comic thriller, “Coup de Chance.”

Paris-set ‘Chance’ is Allen’s arch de Triomphe

Just as you were prepared to write Woody Allen off as a feeble, out-of-touch filmmaker – not to mention a despicable human being – he silences some of his most staunch critics – myself included – with his glorious French confection, “Coup de Chance.” It’s a strong return to form, perhaps equaling “Blue Jasmine” and “Midnight in Paris” among the 88-year-old’s most accomplished late-period offerings. But there’s still no ignoring the elephant in the room. Like fellow accused pedophile Roman Polanski, it’s difficult to separate the art from the artist.

It helps that “Coup de Chance” is the least identifiable Woody Allen film among the 62 productions in his oeuvre. For one thing, it’s entirely in French, spoken by largely unknown – but highly appealing – Gallic actors in service to a Hitchcockian thriller refreshingly free of Allen’s passe style of sarcasm. Not that he’s beyond a few mildly humorous mother-in-law quips. His tight script also makes fascinating use of fate and chance – thus the title – in constructing a dangerous love triangle involving a femme mariée caught between the woman she is now and the girl she was.

By now, it’s no mystery that Allen is paramount at creating complex roles for actresses, many resulting in Oscar wins. I doubt a gold statuette, or even a nomination, is in store for Lou de Laâge, but the fresh-faced “Breathe” star dazzles just the same as Fanny, an art curator happily married to the elegant Jean (Melvil Poupaud), a hugely successful financier whose professional reputation is tainted by rampant rumors that he achieved his excessive wealth unscrupulously.

Fanny tends to tune out the scuttlebutt. Like many, she’s been seduced by Jean’s exceptional looks and smarmy charm. As outsiders like to say, “She’s hit the jackpot.” And Fanny’s prying mother, Camille (Valérie Lemercier), is not about to let her daughter forget it. She believes Fanny has cashed the equivalent of a massive Megabucks ticket. But Fanny’s “luck” is about to change via a chance meeting on the streets of Paris with Alain (Neils Schneider), a former classmate from New York’s Lycée Français.

You think nothing of the encounter. Neither does Fanny. But days later, the handsome, tousled-haired Alain rings her up at work and invites her to lunch. Between bites of baguettes, Alain professes a mad crush on Fanny back in the day. Flattered, she brushes it off. But Alain persists until they are lunching together daily. Fanny is increasingly intrigued. And Allen makes sure we are, too.

It helps that Laâge and Schneider have terrific chemistry. Think Jim and Pam from “The Office.” Fanny keeps telling herself it’s nothing until lunch on a rainy day inside his writing lair evolves into an afternoon delight. This forces Fanny into a moral dilemma she’s ill-prepared to deal with. She’s no longer herself, and an insanely jealous Jean gradually notices the changes in his wife’s normally sunny behavior. Knowing what we know about Jean’s past, you start dreading what might happen not just to Fanny, but to Alain.

Allen has us just where he wants us. And he delivers the final goods in a clever, twist-filled third act encompassing suspicion and a healthy dose of gaslighting slightly reminiscent of Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder.” Actually, it’s closer to Allen’s vastly superior “Match Point” from 2005, a film that also dealt with infidelity and violence among the idle rich. “Coup de Chance” is much breezier (accentuated by a jaunty jazz score) and considerably shorter at just 96 minutes. But the story is no less gripping, as Allen builds tension while also contemplating the huge roles luck and providence play in our lives.

There’s nothing novel or earth-shattering, but it IS intensely entertaining, thriving on the excellent work of the entire ensemble. Their characters are largely shallow and underdeveloped, but Allen is so superb at generating richness in them that “Coup de Chance” feels more substantial than it has a right. Yet, even a satisfying, truly unexpected ending can’t erase your revulsion toward Allen. But if you can temporarily set aside those misgivings, I’m sure you’ll agree that “Chance” is quite a coup.

Movie review

Coup de Chance

Rated: PG-13 for some violence, thematic elements and suggestive material

Cast: Lou de Laâge, Melvil Poupaud, Niels Schneider and Valérie Lemercier

Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Runtime: 96 minutes

Language: In French with English subtitles

Where: In theaters April 5 and streaming April 12

Grade: B+

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