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Comme une image (Look at Me)

(2005) *** Unrated
107 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: Agnes Jaoui. Cast: Agnes Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Marilou Berry, Laurent Grevill, Serge Riaboukine.

Comme une image translates to "Like an Image," but the American title of Agnès Jaoui's romantic dramedy—Look at Me—more succinctly states the film's theme: the difficulty of getting professional and personal attention and the horrible realization that, when it comes, it usually comes for the wrong reasons.

Look at Me is an ensemble piece, but it centers around Lolita Cassard (Marilou Berry), the 20-year-old daughter of famous novelist and publisher Étienne Cassard (Jean-Pierre Bacri of The Housekeeper). The full-figured Lolita wants to be a singer, but she wants positive attention even more, since she has low self-esteem deep-seated by her father, a passive-aggressive, manipulative bastard. As such, Lolita's accustomed to rejection (which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy); compounding the problem are the persistent idealized body images of a consumer culture.

Lolita and Étienne are the touchstones for several others leading equally high-strung lives, filled with self-doubt. Distracted by the frustrating fragmentation of a cell-phone world, they're a cast of complainers who use and abuse each other. Primary among them are the Millets: Pierre (Laurent Grévill), a defeatist novelist who's serious as a heart attack, and his wife Sylvia (Jaoui), a vocal teacher who—like most people—nominally tolerates Lolita until she learns Étienne Cassard is the girl's father.

Jaoui's script is perceptive, with true-to-life dialogue that's at least as sad as it is funny. Étienne is married to Karine (Virginie Desarnauts), a beautiful, much younger woman who compounds Lolita's self-image issues. When Étienne asks, about their young child's drawing, "Who's that big monster?" his little girl replies, "Daddy." From the mouths of babes: in another scene, the bad dad yells, "Karine, turn the volume down on the kid!" In one his failed attempts to appear nice, Étienne calls his elder daughter "my big girl" (behind her back, she's "anger on wheels"). When professional reversals fail to right his writer's block, he spits, "What good is misery?"

Much of the running time is devoted to two subplots: the fallout of Pierre's suddenly rising career fortunes and the awkward bonding of Lolita's new love interest. Since she's damaged goods, the pessimistic Lolita doesn't know how to deal with the genuine interest of the essentially optimistic Sébastien (Keine Bouhiza). Lolita's father deals with the presence of Sébastien by chronically getting his name wrong, then dismissively throwing a job opportunity at him. The latter gesture only reinforces all of Lolita's fears of being used, driving a wedge between her and a rare shot at happiness.

Jaoui's a sensitive and very funny performer, and her screenplay capitalizes on her talent for the monstrous and cringing gestures of human nature. Look at Me could stand to have more meat on its narrative bones, and, at times, it seems to meander when it should dig its heels in or lounge when it should get up and go. Nevertheless, Look at Me deserves a little attention of its own.

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