Venus Beauty Institute Movie Review
Pity poor Angèle (Nathalie Baye). She toils away at the titular French beauty salon during the day, and looks for quick sexual encounters at night. In her 40s, she feels too burned by the loves in her past to get hurt again, and instead finds her happiness in hunting down men with whom to have trysts. Early in the film, she quickly approaches a stranger in a cafeteria, tactlessly luring him away from dinner so they can do it in his car. We get the feeling that she wants more -- a funny opening sequence where she gets dumped helps -- but she's too headstrong for that.
Angèle won't commit, and neither does Venus Beauty Institute. Writer/director Tonie Marshall has the right idea for two-thirds of the movie, putting nearly all her efforts to crafting Angèle, diving into what could be a complex character. We see her public side at the salon as well as her private life, and Marshall surrounds her with a circle of people in both, including an engaged, scruffy-looking guy who falls instantly in love at the sight of her (what is it with the French and leading men that look like Gerard Depardieu?!). We get to see her new relationship with him as well as her friends, acquaintances, and customers at the salon.
But once Marshall starts spending more time with others, we lose interest. With the time invested in Angèle, we don't really care to see the supporting characters from the salon outside of that setting. With its pink and peach color design in the midst of bustling Paris, the shop provides a creative contrast to the rest of the movie, and some of the film's best and quirkiest scenes are right there -- maybe the story should've never left that set. But when Marshall decides that we need to know more about Angèle's buddies, the movie and the salon lose their flavor.
As Angèle, veteran French actress Baye (The Man Who Loved Women) brings out as much of this complex character as possible, and was nominated for France's César Award (the movie won four, including Best French Film). Bearing a resemblance to Kathy Baker, she shows a life of weariness and street smarts on her face, looking like she was once a stunning beauty who now needs to remind herself of that. Baye delivers Angèle's aggressive come-ons and facial mannerisms with a matter-of-fact attitude that shows off real natural talent.
But as lively as she makes Angèle, Baye can't hold up the finale of the movie on her own. The final act makes Venus Beauty Institute too long, as Marshall stretches the story beyond a comfortable length, and throws in some stupid, predictable plot points. Thinking that this would be great for say, a Sunday afternoon video rental, I was proven wrong by the movie's finale. And the final shot, meant to come off as magical and romantic, is too contrived just like, well, many sitcoms.
Aka Vénus beauté (institut).
Mars and Venus.