For one screening on January 18th, the Avalon Theatre in D.C. will show My Piece of the Pie (Ma part du gâteau) (2011) in their French Cinémathèque showcase. Let’s call the film a romantic comedy, as it has oddly woven elements of both genres. The French certainly know romance, and they’re none too shabby with comedy either. But the mixture of the two is something the country needs to work on.
Director Cédric Klapisch, who wrote and directed My Piece of the Pie, is a decent director. His films are light, airy, and never entirely bogged down in difficult issues. His When the Cat’s Away (Chacun cherche son chat) (1996) won some recognition with American audiences with its whimsical charm. His new film, at first, seems to follow with that tradition, until its conclusion, which comes out of left field.
The film is similar to many American romantic comedies (save for the finale) in its story arch. But the French don’t do anything like Americans, and there are strengths in this film that their across-the-pond brethren from the same genre could learn from. The characters aren’t wooden, the acting is strong, and the cinematography is more than serviceable. The script also works, until the finale, where it decides it wants to be more than just a genre piece. At 87 minutes in, it’s a little bit late for that.
The story opens with the attempted suicide on France (yes, that’s her name), who has lost her job when the factory she worked at closes in hard economic times. We also meet Steve, a trader who helped close the factory that France worked at. They meet when she takes a job as his cleaning lady. Slowly, they become closer and develop a relationship where she becomes mother to both Steve and his young son.
The economical divide between the two is merely serving as a backdrop to this story, and we wonder why it’s so punctuated at times. We get our answer with the ending. It would have served fine as an opposites-attract machination between the two leads, which you assume to be the film’s star-crossed lovers. But although the film has been formulaic throughout the entire movie, Klapisch refuses to give the story the prescribed ending a film like this wants and deserves. Instead, we are given a political statement that’s shoehorned in at the last minute.
To be fair, there was a moment when I liked this film. There is a point at the end, in where France takes Steve’s son to play in an England park. There is only 18 minutes of film left. All Klapisch has to do is bring the leads back together and wrap up with a cheesy happy ending. Or not. There’s many ways it could have worked. What the director instead decides to do is so utterly inexplicable, so unbelievably infuriating, and so completely offensive in its blazon stupidity that you will come to hate the entire 87 minutes that came before it. It didn’t need to end like a typical rom-com for it to work, but it’s hard to imagine a worse ending than this simplistic, hammer-over-the-head finish. The more you think about the ending, the more its bête-noire seeps into what worked before.
My Piece of the Pie (Ma part du gâteau) will play the Avalon Theatre’s French Cinémathèque showcase on Wednesday, January 18 at 8:00 p.m. for one show only. For other upcoming releases playing at the Avalon Theatre, visit their website here. A North American home video release for the film has yet to be announced.