There's a better movie floating around the edges of the French import "Love at First Fight" than first-time feature director Thomas Cailley has allowed to surface. Though it's billed as a romantic comedy, this quirky tale takes too many narrative U-turns that seem to dodge the genre's more traditional (read: satisfying) tropes and dynamics.
Co-written by Cailley and Claude Le Pape, the film finds the antsy Arnaud (Kévin Azaïs) and his more responsible brother, Manu (Antoine Laurent), attempting to pick up the pieces of their recently deceased father's carpentry business. Arnaud, though capable and well meaning, becomes diverted by Madeline (Adèle Haenel), a surly, pessimistic young woman he meets in a self-defense demonstration.
Madeline, preparing to attend an army boot camp, is hardly your typical rom-com babe. She's pretty, yes, but she's the kind of woman who pulverizes a whole raw fish in a blender then drinks it — out of the blender. She can open a beer bottle with her teeth.
Arnaud eventually follows Madeline to the army training camp where he, unlike Madeline, unexpectedly blossoms. In a forced twist, the two end up alone together in a survivalist-type scenario where things turn romantic but also weird and somber.
Cailley never truly builds a narrative head of steam, resulting in periods of logy pacing and diffused focus. Still, the strong leads, several amusing moments and a clutch of intriguing character bits sketch what might have been.
"Love at First Fight."
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. In French with subtitles.
Playing: Laemmle's Royal Theatre, West Los Angeles; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Edwards Westpark 8, Irvine.