Madame review: shines a light on human nature


Rossy de Palma and Toni Collette in Madame.
Rossy de Palma and Toni Collette in Madame.

ALL is not what it seems in the lives of a rich American couple and their maid after one harmless dinner party triggers a domino effect of events and relationships that bring some not-so-likeable traits to light.

Uptight, hoity-toity American socialite Anne (Toni Collette) is putting on a dinner party in her swanky Paris mansion for some distinguished international guests, but the last-minute unannounced arrival of her stepson throws the seating plan out of whack and she has a tizzy about it.

To avoid an unlucky 13 people at the table she recruits her Spanish plain Jane head maid Maria (Rossy de Palma) to even out the numbers and pose as a friend, but with strict instructions.

Maria is not to talk too much, laugh too much or smile too much; simply be present but forgettable.

However, Maria manages to charm a British artbroker (Michael Smiley) who is seated next to her and romance blossoms – much to Anne’s anger and frustration.

There are plenty of pleasant laughs to be had with the hijinks in this mistaken identity/fish out of water/Cinderella tale, which begins in a way that Hollywood could not have done better.

But writer/director Amanda Sthers likes to dig a little deeper, peeling back the layers of her characters to show that this is no Hollywood fairytale.

Collette’s wicked socialite begins as fairly one note, but we are eventually made privy more and more about what makes her tick – and it is often heartbreaking.

After enjoying some frivolity recently with film such as Blinky Bill the Movie, Krampus and xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Collette gives some of her best work in Madame.

Her performance, particularly in one scene when the rich bitch with self-esteem issues bares herself to another man, who swiftly rejects her, is impressive.

De Palma, a long time collaborator with director Pedro Almodovar, shines as Maria, a woman stuck between two worlds and having to suffer Anne’s jealousy and ire.

Madame will at first tickle the funny bone, then slowly reveal that not everyone is always likeable, preferring to shine a light on human nature rather than gags.

THE ESSENTIALS

Madame (M)

Directed by: Amanda Sthers

Starring: Toni Collette, Harvey Keitel, Rossy de Palma

Four stars

Review by Julian Wright

In cinemas now

 

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