Watching Amélie is like taking a sticky shower in honey. No, wait: Amélie is like a never-ending bowl of filling comfort food. It's like a nougat enema. Like drowning in a lake filled with Grand Manier. Like EuroDisney after a full frontal lobotomy.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who used to make movies with his partner Marc Caro, has been known for his adventurous and quirky films, especially "Delicatessen" and "City of Lost Children." He is also known as the guy who made H.R. Giger's creatures swim in "Alien: Resurrection." With Amélie, he is back in a safe terrestrian setting - a Paris of his dreams, to be precise, a world full of delights without fear or pain or worry. Too bad, really, because the cannibalistic butchers, mad scientists, and gory space monsters that populated his earlier films are precisely what's missing from Amélie.
If you haven't seen Audrey Tautou smirk at you from a poster or magazine cover yet, it is only a matter of time. The heroine of Amélie is so godawfully cute that there will be no avoiding her. "Cute" also pretty much sums up the movie, which will almost certainly be this fall's foreign film hit, thanks to Tautou's overly dilated pupils and her good heart, which leads her to do good in the world: the film's plot revolves around Amélie's desire to commit random acts of kindness, including returning lost childhood souveniers to their rightful owners and sending garden gnomes on trips around the world.
I enjoyed Amélie for about fifteen minutes. Jeunet's playful direction and rare attention to details make the breathless opening of the film giddy fun. But Amélie just keeps on piling on the happy goodness until you start to foam at the mouth. Shamelessly pandering to the crowd, Jeunet stuffs the film with an overdose of quirkiness, repeats some of his best jokes from Delicatessen, and rips off well-known urban legends to no end whatsoever. The kind of facile entertainment where droll members of a tight-knit community take care of each other's happiness used to be reserved for a certain brand of Irish comedy, but I suppose since last year's fake-French Chocolat, no country's films are safe from the feel-good bug.
Jeunet's inventiveness is certainly laudable, and I love a well-constructed happy ending. Movies like Lukas Moodyson's Together slowly win you over and earn their considerable pleasures. Yet in "Amélie," there is never a sense of danger, or pain, or loss. Amélie's loneliness never becomes tangible. In her sunlit play world, nothing ever goes wrong, and nothing is at stake. But without the acknowledgement of the pain life can hold in store, all the carefree joy winds up looking merely dumb. Instead of filling me with kindness and love, Amélie made me angry: so much geniune talent wasted on a weightless, pointless confection.