(3 1/2 *'s) `Avenue Montaigne' operates on the premise that all Parisians seek the good life. Offering a cross-section of the French dream, the film digs deeper with a "can't buy me happiness" theme stretching through intersecting lives.
Jessica (Ce'cile De France) is a high-life wanna-be who takes care of her grandmother in a nursing home. The elder reminisces that she took menial labor to enjoy vicariously the high art, food, and fashion of Paris. Emulating her grandmother, Jessica seeks a job at a café where they deliver, but will only break tradition of hiring waiters when they're in a bind. As a vivacious courier and waitress she meets the people who allegedly have fulfilled their dreams.
There's Catherine (Val'erie Lemercier), a prima donna actress who isn't satisfied with the lucrative contracts she's offered. In order to achieve a high level of art, she stumbles over tables and chairs for a chance to court Sydney Pollack (cameo, himself), looking for a lead in his film. (Some of her foot-in-mouth tendencies make for some of the funniest moments.) Jean-Francois Laforte (Albert Dupontel) is a celebrated pianist who has all the amenities and filled concert halls, but his real desire is to enrich the uninitiated. His wife is his manager who can see only the material benefits of her gifted husband. Jacques, an elder art dealer wishes to sell out his collection before interest is lost, but his teacher son, Frederic (Christopher Thompson), is too idealistic. He's divorced and must watch his widower father flaunt his attractive new mistress while discovering the siren is predictably only interested in his father's money. Then, there's an elder woman who, having no musical talent of her own, is a purveyor of others' talents. She relishes the music. The movie displays great irony, for Jessica and the music purveyor, although outside of the circle of the affluent talent, seem oddly more satisfied than the successful people they admire.
`Avenue Montaigne' may not be as substantive or profound as French movies like 'L'Enfant' or 'Ponette,' but it is easily likable with characters who are accessible and make empathetic connections with the audience. Warmly engaging, sometimes funny, but often wise, this movie is a heartwarming alternative to a boulevard of broken dreams. The effect of the movie is like creme brule,' sweet, light, but very satisfying.