Parenthood feels remarkably fresh and fun in Love at First Child, an irresistible French comedy that makes its U.S. debut some two years after opening in France. It was worth the wait. This film delights and touches with its appealing tale of unlikely romance, surprising lineage and engaging relationships.

Like many French comedies, Love at First Child develops its characters before searching for the punchlines. The relationships in the film, in fact, are so well developed that we almost don't need the subtitles to follow the narrative. But they help. From the opening moments we know we will be entertained. Patrick Bruel captures the arrogant essence of Ange, an architect focused on the work he pursues and the women he chases. Seldom does he consider the child he may have fathered years before. But his potential lineage comes to mind when a woman shows up at his office — the mother of that son's girlfriend — to announce they all have a pregnancy in common.

This clever set up lets us know the movie comes from a stage play. We sense the progression of acts and the precision of dialogue. But screenwriter and director Anne Giafferi effectively “opens up” the proceedings to save the movie from feeling stage bound. By using a range of rhythms in how the characters relate, and the actors connect, Giaggeri sustains the timing of farce while exploring the depths of emotion. Yes, we chuckle as these exaggerated people fall victim to the follies parenthood can bring. More important, we smile as we see ourselves in the eyes of parents who want to do right for their children but can’t always figure out the best approach.

Unlike the forced humor that defines many American comedies, Love at First Child never tries too hard to make us laugh. Nor does it let its efforts to humor get in the way of its commitment to enlighten. Below the gentle surface of this engaging story thrive serious thoughts of what it means to be parents. As much as we love our children, when should we let go? As much as we fear how our children may react, when must we confront what they choose? And as much as we want to trust their decisions, when must we help them see the consequences of their steps? Love at First Child is, always, a comedy about exaggerated people who pursue the outrageous. Beyond the laughs, these characters become authentic souls who want to connect. And can’t always figure out how to get out of the way.

Love at First Child also illustrates how challenging it can be for an entertaining film to find an audience. There’s not a lot of room at the multiplex for a gentle film about real people. Such a movie doesn’t require IMAX or 3-D. It simply needs people who want to pay attention. Perhaps this film’s ultimate lesson is as much about what it takes to reach viewers as its story reminds us what it takes for people to reach each other. Even when they’re in the same family.

(Love at First Child is not rated. While its story is suggestive, its content is free from strong language. The film is in French with subtitles and runs 91 minutes. It will open July 11 on a range of online and on-demand platforms. Four Popcorn Buckets. For more about gentle movies about parenthood, see column below.)

“Film Nutritional Value”: Love at First Child

  • Content: High. This lovely story about how parents love their children – no matter their ages or choices  – reminds us how much we have to give no matter the moment.
  • Entertainment: High. Patrick Bruel makes the most of the opportunity to create a memorable portrait of a reluctant father.
  • Message: High. Yes, no matter how our children may grow up, we never stop being parents. And there’s always something they need to hear.
  • Relevance: High. Any opportunity to share a movie about parents and children with members of our family is meaningful.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your family, take a moment to thank each other for all the ways you bring meaning to each other.

Sarandon shines as meddling mom

by Mark Schumann

The Reel Dad

Just as Love at First Child reminds us what changes parenthood can bring, The Meddler helps us remember, as parents, that our work is never done no matter what ages our children may reach.

In this comedy from 2015, Susan Sarandon’s portrayal of an ultimate mother also suggests that, as parents age, we must become more flexible as our children grow. And she illuminates how a parent should give adult offspring the opportunities to fly on their own no matter where they may land.

As meaningful as these lessons may be, another endearing message of The Meddler is what an actress can accomplish when she secures material at the level of her talent. For more than 40 years, Susan Sarandon has made us believe in many women, their fears, challenges and hopes. In The Meddler, she adds another portrait to her gallery of women with the courage to stand up to others.

The film tells a story that any parent with grown children can appreciate. Sarandon plays a widow who fleas her memories of married life in New Jersey to relocate closer to her grown daughter in Southern California. As the widow fills her Los Angeles apartment with souvenirs from her past, she strolls the outdoor walks of The Grove and drives the crowded roads in her late husband’s convertible. When her daughter begins to shun her visits, calls and texts, this resourceful mother finds other children to parent, from a young man who helps her figure out gadgets at the Apple store to a young woman who always wanted a memorable wedding. This lady simply has more love to share than her immediate world can accommodate.

What makes the film – and Sarandon – so appealing when telling this story is how the character never loses her sense of humor. No matter the focus of her annoying attention, Sarandon’s character always manages to smile, even when those in her sight may want to run away. Yes, her daughter may go out of her way to avoid mother’s attention, but this lady never wanders from her mission as a parent. And, as she tries to come to terms with her late husband’s death, Sarandon manages to grasp the humanity of the moment, never letting herself feel sorry for the changes she must absorb. The actress makes us believe how, no matter what we face, we can get through anything as long as we remember to keep that glass half full.

Of course, Sarandon the actress is too subtle to let such potentially cloying material become too sentimental. She never goes for the obvious reading of a line, or the simple laugh to top a situation. Sarandon simply is. And, when she is, she makes us want to be in the same room, sharing the same air, because she is so accessible. Her scenes with J.K. Simmons, at his most endearing as a man who raises chickens in his backyard, make us believe that, no matter the age, people can find each other and savor what they share.

As parents, as our children grow up, how much we hope for them never diminishes. When we become parents, we sign on for life. And if, as our kids age, they start to think they need us less, The Meddler reminds us that, no matter how a child may object, we still need to reach out. Just as Love at First Child shows how every child needs a parent.

(The Meddler is rated PG-13 for “brief drug content”. The film runs 100 minutes and is available on various online and on demand platforms.)