Reel Dad: Juliette Binoche shines in romantic comedy

A romantic comedy needs resolution.

After the characters share their dilemmas about love, we want to know what happens. If such a film leaves too much unresolved, the flaws in the people or the holes in the narrative can leave a bitter aftertaste. That’s why, when constructing a romantic comedy, a movie maker must make the most of each moment to carry the story through its resolution. After all, when we watch romance on screen, we want happy endings.

The French comedy Let the Sunshine In (Un beau soleil interieur) offers all the ingredients of a romantic comedy. The radiant Juliette Binoche shines as a divorced artist struggling to find a steady relationship as she faces what the movies love to describe as “middle age.” For her, an ongoing dalliance with a married banker limits her view of a what a healthy relationship can be. While she debates how to resolve the affair, she finds time with him less satisfying than casual chitchat at the food market. Only when confronted with the reality of her life, her age, and the emptiness of her choices does she dare to hope that she can experience something more.

This slight premise gives Binoche enough material to make the woman and her journey believable. She authentically reveals the loneliness this lady can feel; she openly shares her fears in conversations as real as any exchanges between friends. When she encounters an actor trying to figure out what to do with his life she sincerely communicates what she hopes to experience with hers. And when she discovers a handsome man on the dance floor she openly initiates a superficial connection that defies any level of logic. But does she ever discover what prevents her from searching for what she truly wants?

The character’s indecision, while it may define the lady and fuel the story, tends to slow the film down. And a romantic comedy can’t afford to stand still. The moviemaker must pace conversations to establish and sustain interest. Even though it’s lovely, as a Juliette Binoche fan, to watch her endlessly talk about the pain in her life, such extended dialogue so drags the film that it risks losing its focus on resolution. And a romantic comedy must resolve the dilemmas that interfere with relationships, no matter how unrealistic such resolutions would be in real life.

Despite the film’s ambiguity, Let the Sunshine In lets Binoche again demonstrate her commanding ability to dig into a character. Since she first burst onto the global screen in The English Patient more than 20 years ago — and won a surprise Oscar — Binoche has built a career around careful movie choices primarily in French language films. By avoiding the temptation to shape her career around big-budget commercial ventures, she continually pushes the boundaries of her craft, continually appearing in films that test her ability to make every moment believable no matter its origin. And Let the Sunshine In works best when it lets Binoche bring her authenticity to each relationship she pursues.

Because a romantic comedy needs resolution. And a happy ending.

Film Nutritional Value: Let the Sunshine In

  • Content: Medium. Moviemaker Claire Denis focuses this romantic comedy on the possibilities a woman explores while searching for love in right and wrong places.
  • Entertainment: Medium. Juliette Binoche captivates in a lovely performance that reveals the subtleties, agendas and pressures that can define relationships.
  • Message: Medium. Anyone who savors the opportunity to enjoy a lovely actress at work will savor this movie. But it fails to resolve the lead character’s challenges.
  • Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to watch Binoche at work is welcome.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. You and your older children may find this film a slow 94 minutes despite the lovely work from Binoche.

Let the Sunshine In, in French with English subtitles, is not rated, is not appropriate for younger children, and features scenes of nudity, profanity, alcohol and smoking. The film runs 94 minutes and is available in theaters and on demand. 3 Popcorn Buckets. 

Clouds of Sils Maria: Binoche and Stewart blaze the screen

She stares out the window, from her seat on a train, reflecting the weight of her life in every glance. Professionally she is accomplished and recognized; personally her days are filled with curiosity about choices made and opportunities avoided. Perhaps she could drift endlessly in her ambiguity. But a profound change will force her to confront the realities she faces about her life.

Like a novel that slowly reveals its narrative, Clouds of Sils Maria captivates us with the layering of its story. On the surface this is a simple tale of a famous actress who travels to visit her mentor, a respected director who created some of her most famous roles, and provide a tribute at a ceremony in his honor. But, when he dies as she travels, she begins to examine what it would take to restore balance to a life out of control. And, as in Let the Sunshine In, Juliette Binoche brings this complex woman to life.

Such a character study could, in less caring hands, emerge as plotless and repetitive, interesting but self absorbed. But with the grand Binoche as the actress, and the sublime Kristen Stewart as her multi-tasking personal assistant, Clouds challenges us to consider what it takes to remain authentic in an increasingly artificial world. While Binoche, representing an older generation, strives to simplify her hectic life, Stewart relishes how technology enables her to work, malign and strategize at the same time. And while they may share cynical views of people’s intentions, they start each day with different expectations and fears. This complex story of a woman facing the realities of age, career and relationships gives Binoche the chance to deliver what may be the performance of her career while Stewart reveals more than her previous screen work has permitted.

In one delicate sequence after another, writer/director Olivier Assayas creates a dynamic between these characters reminiscent of the classics All About Eve and The Women. His opening sequence — on the train — tells us everything we need to know about these characters. Binoche is soulful, curious and careful, while Stewart is focused, impatient and resolute. While Binoche wishes to consider options, Stewart wants closure. As Binoche brings patience to her emotions, Stewart calculates the least amount of energy needed to resolve an issue. With each exchange, Assayas and his actresses reveal that, while people may want to think of themselves as fair, judgment can become a recreational sport.

Binoche invests the role with a depth of technique she brings to every film. The actress accomplishes so much with her eyes, reveals such rich emotion with a casual observation, tells so much with each expression. And Stewart, who captured audiences in Twilight and provided strong support to Julianne Moore in Still Alice, demonstrates a range of artistic curiosity that proves her capable to carry a film. In each scene, she makes us want to learn more about a young woman who can be giving at the same time she remains absorbed in the details of her life.

With Clouds, director Assayas advances his reputation as a filmmaker with a capacity to capture the small moments that define relationships. With Binoche and Stewart bringing his vision to life, he delivers a riveting character study that captures our imaginations from its first moments. We love spending time with these women.

Clouds of Sils Maria is rated R for “language and brief graphic nudity.” The film runs 124 minutes. It is available to stream online.