INSPIRED by the novel from Flaubert, Gemma Bovery plays as a comedy with a modest amount of charm but ultimately not enough to entertain throughout in spite of its performances from its lead actors.
The film starts with town baker and literature-obsessed Martin (the wonderful Fabrice Luchini) breaking the fourth wall as he explains how a simple life in a new area was not to be. Going back to the past, Martin introduces himself to an English couple who have moved in near him, the eponymous Gemma (Gemma Arterton) and her slightly older husband Charlie (Jason Flemyng). Aside from the difficulties regarding the language barriers given the couple’s inability to speak fluent French, a positive relationship between them and Martin appears.
Time progresses and as it happens, it transpires that Gemma is actually unfaithful to Charlie, much to the surprise of Martin. As Martin investigates more of Gemma’s life, his obsession with Madame Bovery effectively inspires him to prevent Gemma from her escapades, as he fears that her life is gradually mirroring that of the tragic literary heroine.
It sounds like an interesting concept on top of the subjects venturing from French class to English romance but with the end result, comes a sense that the film should have featured a lot more positives than it did.
Luchini and Arterton, who are both impressive actors to watch from their respective countries, have a good deal of chemistry between them, even if they do come across as an unlikely pair. Their work makes for some welcoming moments, mainly a recurring gag involving the use of rat poison and Martin’s incessant paranoia-fuelled demands at Gemma to never use the stuff.
Luchini is also well placed in some moments where his reactions make for some sequences bettering thanks to him. Whether its swearing at his barking dog or his over-the-top reaction to a mouse invading a conversation between him and Gemma, it is safe to say that Luchini saves the film from becoming too flat. Thanks to recent works like In the House and last year’s best film Cycling with Moliere, Luchini is at the stage few actors get to where his presence alone elevates the wanting to see a film with him in it.
Arterton brings to mind her similar performance in the better comedy Tamara Drewe, where she played a promiscuous young English woman whose multiple sexual adventures led to tragedy by film’s end. She brings a confidence to the role and there is a charm that makes her a rather entertaining figure to view.
The problem with the film however lies with its failure to make the film wittier as well as make the other supporting characters appear on par with its two leads.
Early on, we see Martin’s teenage son who seems more interested in video games rather than his father’s choice of literature which uncovers a generational gap. Rather than building on that, the film drifts away from that and focuses later on a fairly mediocre sequence where the main characters socialize with another English couple who are forgotten about as soon as they leave.
Charlie and the lovers that Gemma engages with are in the film long enough to justify an attempt to make their characters interesting to watch. Instead they are written too plainly as simple character types which stops the film from becoming one where an ensemble cast and not just two actors, can help build upon the entertainment value.
A later storyline where a beloved antique is accidentally destroyed by Gemma during one of her trysts and her lover’s mother, seeks to find out how it happened is interesting to see. But that makes for a classic case of too little too late in a film where storytelling has become secondary to detailing characters whose actions become too obvious or overextended throughout.
By the end, in spite of two twists in the film’s conclusion, the result is a comedy that is not funny enough or memorable enough to entertain wholly, even if Luchini and Arterton do a fair job carrying it.