Naturally, when you envision the ideal character to lead a romantic comedy-drama, you think of Jean-Luc Godard. Specifically, you call to mind that notoriously nebbishy charmer who in 1968 was so fortified with revolutionary fervor that he turned his back on the satirical, visually rapacious pop-art cinema that made him famous to pursue the kind of political tract movie that just screams Date Night. Boy meets Mao! I mean, girl!
French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius loves movies, as shown by his Oscar-winning ode to the silent era, "The Artist," and the affectionately '60s-splashy "OSS-117" adventures. But "Godard Mon Amour," the director's half-parodic/half-earnest stab at turning his country's rule-breaking enfant terrible (played by Louis Garrel) into one-half of a prickly movie couple — focusing on his then-new marriage to his "La Chinoise" star Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin) — is the kind of curiously inconsequential homage that neither stokes your interest in cinema/Godard nor illuminates a turbulent love story between artists.
You'd never guess Hazanavicius' screenplay was based on Wiazemsky's own late-in-life memoir of the marriage called "Un an après," so frustratingly passive is this movie's 20-year-old Anne as she endures the increasingly alienating radicalization of her 37-year-old cinema god paramour.
Godard is at first insecure about the dulled reaction to his explicitly political "La Chinoise," then animated by the 1968 student protests convulsing France until he's dismissed by the movement's young revolutionaries, after which his attempts at career disruption — picking fights with fellow filmmakers, trying to shut down Cannes, starting a collective with Maoist cohort Jean-Pierre Gorin (Félix Kysyl) — begin to reframe him as poisonously arrogant rather than startlingly bold.
What had started as a frisky romance built of the alluring but classically patronizing male-director/female-star relationship quickly devolves into a jokey wade into a petulant, misanthropic mind. We all know Godard is a famously confrontational figure — as Agnès Varda's pained call-out last year in "Faces Places" reinforced — but "Godard Mon Amour" treats his outbursts like nutrition-free screwball fodder.
As the promising notion of an intellectually rocky affair between tantalizingly opposing forces (up-and-coming actress, roiling filmmaker) morphs into empty mid-career biopic, Hazanavicius is hell-bent on molding Godard into a superficially self-obsessed Woody Allen leading man in the middle of a Mel Brooks-style parody of the New Wave legend's seminal work. We get winking his-and-hers full frontal nudity (while the protagonists talk about the vogue for movie skin), a gag about voice-overs, a hat tip of an extended tracking shot, black-and-white montages and intermittent intertitles.
The last thing Godard's fertile '60s period ever felt like was a mannered checklist of film's possibilities, but Hazanavicius has no such qualms as a pastiche fanboy. But it means "Godard Mon Amour" is never its own movie, just an approximation.
It is, though, clear about how ill-chosen it believes its protagonist was in leaving behind his cool, heady brand of high art/low art. The sheer number of times Hazanavicius has bystanders gush to Godard about his classics suggests one long version of the "early funny ones" joke Allen made about himself in "Stardust Memories." Garrel wears well Godard's horn-rimmed disdain in these instances, and the attendant wounded ego, but he lacks a necessary air of mischief to round out a vivid portrait. Martin, meanwhile, her Anne relegated to long-suffering eyewitness in her own marriage saga, barely registers.
Godard himself is, of course, still going strong, as artist and icon: At age 87, he has a new film at this year's Cannes ("The Image Book"), and the festival's 2018 poster is taken from his 1965 romp "Pierrot le Fou." The irascible pioneer even found time to offer his two centimes on Hazanavicius's movie, which premiered last year at Cannes, calling it a "stupid, stupid idea." The irony is that, had "Godard Mon Amour" been brazenly stupid, instead of just facile and glib, it might have been interesting.
'Godard Mon Amour'
In French with English subtitles
Rating: R, for graphic nudity, sexuality and language
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Royal, West L.A.