Sunday 21 March 2021

On demand: "I Got Life!/Aurore"

For once, the renaming isn't so offbeam. The French title of Blandine Lenoir's comedy-drama, Aurore, suggests a straight-up character study, and yes, we get more than a little of that. Sourced from the Nina Simone song our heroine is seen dancing to at one point, the English-language title, I Got Life!, gestures towards the tenor of that study: broader, brighter, defiantly jollier. This is a film with an unusual villain, in the menopause: for 90 minutes, we're watching Agnès Jaoui, the Gallic Tina Fey, battling hot flushes and sudden crying jags while simultaneously wrestling with unemployment, the fact her daughters - one of whom is set to make her a grandmother - are flying the nest, and the return of her first love (Thibault de Montalembert), with whom she has unfinished business. In short, it's the kind of movie a male writer-director would be unlikely to consider making, and which would be all but unthinkable - deemed unsexy or non-commercial - within the context of the American mainstream: the story of a woman who has to redefine herself at a point in life where most of her contemporaries would consider themselves settled, done and dusted.

Having gone slightly off-map - shooting around coastal La Rochelle, which gives the action a certain freshness and steers the drama away from the usual chic Parisisms - Lenoir returns with a brisk, professional, empathetic portrait of a lady who's simultaneously on fire and on the verge of a meltdown. There's nothing earthshakingly profound here: to some degree, the film's achievements in documenting the menopause have already been overwritten by the incremental genius of Pamela Adlon's work on TV's Better Things, and it shows its hand as a wannabe crowdpleaser with a weird ending that requires an act of God so as to get every man in town chasing after our Aurore. I don't doubt that it'd be relatable, though, and it's very skilfully played, particularly a school reunion scene where all the old dread and memories return to the surface of this life. Some deft touches for a popular comedy, too: having a pair of automatic doors open for everybody but our already beleaguered heroine is one way of visualising the invisibility of the middle-aged woman, and I liked the date in a restaurant where the waiters are all opera singers, which initially cues some comedy of embarrassment, but eventually generates a nice moment of connection. That's one of the benefits that come with age: you take things in your stride a little better. Whatever it's called, this is a film with an appealing weight of experience behind it.

I Got Life! is now streaming via the BBC iPlayer, and available to rent via Prime Video and the BFI Player.

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