Read My Lips Movie Review

In my notes for the acclaimed French romantic thriller Read My Lips, the word "endless" is scribbled twice on separate pages, and underlined each time for emphasis. The movie's weakness is not in its material, but in how it's handled.

The movie introduces us to Carla (Emmanuelle Devos), an overworked but tireless secretary for a large construction company. She looks a bit like Toni Colette (which means she's deemed ugly by co-workers), wears two hearing aids, and has the ability to read lips. Unable to enjoy silence and immersed in relative solitude, it's no wonder that she's falling apart.

Carla places an ad for an assistant, and driven by loneliness, it nearly turns into a personal (tall, male, nice hands). Luckily for her, lanky ex-con Paul (Vincent Cassel, the voice of Monsieur Hood in Shrek) comes to her service from an employment agency. Despite his complete lack of office skills or even a home address, Carla keeps him around, even when he makes advances on her. Knowing she has power, Carla asks him to steal a co-worker's file. After Paul is forced to leave the office in order to pay off an old loan to a sleazy nightclub owner (Olivier Perrier), he's asking her to spy on gangsters in the hopes of landing a big score.

As a result of seismic shifts in the plot, watching Read My Lips is maddening. The movie has no sense of pace, or of trying to set a consistent, satisfying tone. After Paul gropes Carla, the script by director Jacques Audiard and Tonino Benacquista could have gone in several interesting directions. It could have been a cat and mouse game of Carla using her pent-up sexuality and professional ambition to have Paul do her corporate dirty work. Carla could have ventured into a dangerous affair with the rugged Paul, which could have led to even more possibilities. Or, in an unrelated but equally important plot possibility, the filmmakers could have profiled Carla's life and have her first meet Paul in the club where he was working. Recognizing that they were both connected by lonely desperation, Carla and Paul could have planned the heist in between disco beats.

The plot takes several tentative steps in these directions (Carla and Paul do meet at the nightclub frequently) but not one of them is fulfilling, nor does any give the movie a clear sense of purpose. Carla flexes her Bud Fox muscles, but it's such a brief flash and it's confusing, especially when Carla decides to enter into the heist with Paul on the condition that he doesn't quit his assistant job. Why would she move so suddenly up the deception ladder, especially when she has the upper hand on him? Paul and Carla dance at her friend's birthday party, but the scene is staged without a single hint of sexual tension and no sense of who wants whom. As a result, there's no sexual motive (which the movie desperately needs) as to why she's partnering with him.

Audiard does hint, memorably, at Carla's sexual side; she likes to wear red high heels and pose naked in the mirror. But by not having Carla gradually awaken to those tendencies with Paul and then explode into his world, the whole movie seems devoid of content and full on stupidly sudden plot twists, like a thong and male nudity-free version of Wild Things. By the time of the actual robbery and its aftermath, there's little clear evidence to as why the characters are even in this situation.

I almost feel wrong for giving Read My Lips a negative review, because I can imagine how good this movie would be if all of the elements were arranged properly. A good many critics see differently, but I feel the final product is so passionless and devoid of genuine suspense that it's almost like I watched a different film.

Aka Sur mes lèvres.



Read My Lips Rating

" Weak "

Rating: NR, 2002


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