Grappling with adulthood is like 'Chinese Puzzle' - Gusto
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Grappling with adulthood is like a ‘Chinese Puzzle’

The dashing Frenchman from “The Spanish Apartment” who wound up with the British redhead in “Russian Dolls” is back for the final chapter of his hectic romantic life in “Chinese Puzzle.”

For Xavier Rousseau, the end comes just in time. Where once he thought life was complicated, now, at age 40, he finds it close to impossible.

The poor fellow, he means to do the right thing, but his good intentions always have a way of blowing up on him. Take his relationship with Wendy. Together for 10 years now and the parents of two children, they discover things just aren’t working out.

As Xavier falls back to his habit of yelling and coping badly, Wendy (Kelly Reilly) moves to New York for a new job and a new man. And she takes the children with her.

This is how director Cédric Klapisch gets Xavier to America, having run him all over Europe in the first two films. Xavier – still played by Romain Duris, who is aging out of his quirky cuteness – doesn’t land quite as softly in NYC as Wendy, who shares the Central Park views of her spacious new apartment with a cartoonishly hunky American (Peter Hermann) who, unfortunately for Xavier, also is a pretty nice guy.

Xavier begins his New York adventure in the apartment of his lesbian friend Isabelle (Cécile De France, from the earlier films) and her American partner, Ju, before moving into Chinatown to be closer to his kids.

As happens in life, adulthood is overtaking everyone here. Isabelle and Ju are having a baby, generously sired by Xavier. Xavier is more concerned about getting his children into decent schools than getting half the women he meets into bed.

And when his old flame Martine (Audrey Tautou) arrives in the city, it is for a business trip. She’s meeting with Chinese businesspeople about improving the quality of the foods they ship around the world, so in a way she still has a “cause.” Along with other baggage, she brings her own two kids and by the end of the picture everyone is smooshed together in one big messy family.

New York obviously is not China. The puzzle of the title is the complexity of Xavier’s life, overwhelming for him but simply “life” for his women friends who accept the juggle. China also pops up in Martine’s fluent Mandarin; Xavier’s tai chi practicing neighbors; the Chinese-immigrant cabbie he saves from a brutal beating; and the most sensible, grounded woman in the film, a Chinese American who helps Xavier become the man he wants to be.

In English and French with subtitles, the profanity-laced dialogue has some brightly comic moments. However, the overall tone of this concluding chapter in the Xavier trilogy is one of slight melancholy as he fights to keep from ruining his life.

That gravitas isn’t as problematic as the running time of just over two hours. Too many digressions, too much redundancy and too much filler weaken what could have been a lively 3-star movie if it were trimmed by about 20 minutes.

Yes, we want to see this Peter Pan become a real man, but he has had three movies in which to accomplish it, and much of “Chinese Puzzle” is more of the same.

That said, if you liked the first two – especially “The Spanish Apartment” – you’ll want to see how life resolves itself for Xavier.

And if you haven’t seen either of the first two films, don’t worry. This isn’t “The Lord of the Rings” or even the “Before/After Sunrise” trilogy. Consider it more like a new James Bond movie. You know this guy, you’ve met his type a hundred times before, and, like almost every woman and man he ever meets, you will probably fall for him in a big way before it is time to say “goodbye.”

Chinese Puzzle

2.5 stars

Starring: Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Kelly Reilly, Cécile De France

Director: Cédric Klapisch

Running time: 123 minutes

Rating: Rated R for sexual content, nudity and language.

The Lowdown: Third film in a romantic comedy trilogy about a French novelist who is nearing 40 and still can’t seem to get his relationships with women right. In English and French with subtitles.


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