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Jeanne and the Perfect Guy
France, 2001
[Olivier Ducastel & Jacques Martineau]
Virginie Ledoyen, Mathieu Demy, Jacques Bonnaffé, Valérie Bonneton
Romance / Musical
Take the most light-hearted of film genres – the musical – and the most grave of contemporary issues – AIDS – and you end up with Jeanne and the Perfect Guy. Jeanne (Ledoyen) is the embodiment of ‘carefree’: young, beautiful, into casual employment and casual sex, and an occasional combination of the two. It’s Paris, it’s springtime, and unlike her parents, she sees no reason to settle down, preferring instead to keep two or three men on the go at once.

This all changes when she falls into Olivier’s (Demy) lap on the Metro one day. Overwhelmed by their passion, they make love there and then and Jeanne is smitten. Only a few days later, when they meet again, can he bring himself to tell her he is HIV positive. The story follows their relationship as they cope with both his illness and their insatiable mutual love.

As a musical, this is a gorgeous film, the best moments not so much being the narrative-driven but the odd number of incidental songs that pop up for no apparent reason, in styles that vary from hiphop to traditional chanson, sung by characters that would normally be designated as extras. Wonderfully light and witty cameos are provided by a flirty bookseller and a Chinese waitress, as well as Jeanne’s sister who, bizarrely, sings about the joys of buying household goods on credit. This all gives the effect that this is more a film about Parisian lives and loves, and we just happen to be focusing on Jeanne and Olivier.

The mutual gay friend of Olivier and Jeanne seems to exist to represent politically active gay men, to work for ACT-UP and therefore serves to ground the film in the territory of 'Importantness'. Instead it veered dangerously close to the Gay Best Friend syndrome of recent Hollywood chick flicks: there to represent inoffensive tokenist homosexuality, and be an instrument to whom Jeanne and Olivier can pour out their feelings. Olivier is given no chance to express the subjectivity of the AIDS sufferer either, and though the intention was the important task of positioning him firstly as a human being, the film positions him uncomfortably between the two, leaving neither position entirely explored.

Perhaps it is better that the seriousness of AIDS wasn’t given the
Miss Saigon treatment. However little as I want to see AIDS tabloidised into wailing epic musical style, I wasn’t exactly convinced by the insouciant touch of this film, either. A thankless task, making this kind of musical, and on the whole, it succeeds. It’s charming (if slightly dismissive), beautiful to look at, and is both amusing and engaging – a little like Jeanne herself, who ends up being the only truly three-dimensional character in the film. However, this limitation of character is a feature of the musical as a genre, and it shouldn’t put you off seeing this.
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