Look at Me is a virtuoso exercise in domestic tension - with the emphasis on "exercise."
Take an exasperatingly self-absorbed, fabulously successful writer-publisher (Jean-Pierre Bacri), his lithe young wife (Virginie Desarnauts) and the overweight daughter from his first marriage (Marilou Berry), and you've got a pat prescription for Gallic comedy-drama.
The girl has organized a vocal group to perform a concert near their country home. But the movie's dominant mode is discord. She sings like an angel; her dad doesn't pay attention. Generally, only people who want to get close to him befriend her. That includes her vocal coach (Agnes Jaoui, who directed and co-wrote the script with Bacri), who idolizes the writer until she's near enough to see his toes of clay.
There's nothing subtle about the family dynamics. When the wife and the daughter get all gussied up, the man of the house compliments his spouse, ignores or puts down his offspring. The wife is as "nice" as a shallow narcissist can be. Director Jaoui upends expectations only by keeping emotions and arguments low-key. She elongates the action as if stretching out a rubber band - and like a band pulled too thin for too long, it goes slack.
What gives the movie a bit of spin is the cast of supporting satellites. Gregoire Oestermann sketches a feathery portrait of a man who's been a celebrity's assistant far too long. Keine Bouhiza offers welcome ambiguity as a recent college grad who may be genuine in his fondness for the daughter.
And as an actor, Jaoui has a puckish charm; the coach's combination of self-awareness and hero-worship proves airily funny. She starts out pushing a relationship with the famous author - then shifts into reverse.
At best, Look at Me could have been a stunt-like comedy-drama - a psychological Cirque du Soleil. But as a director, all Jaoui does is sweat the small stuff. Tiny revelations keep tickling away at you, yet they're not enough to sustain the movie. A viewer feels as if he or she is being massaged by a squad of super-intelligent hamsters.
Look at Me
Starring Marilou Berry, Jean-Pierre Bacri
Directed by Agnes Jauoi
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
Time 106 minutes
Sun Score **1/2 (2 stars & 1 half star)