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Movie review: 'Chinese Puzzle' shows that some things never change

Chinese Puzzle


Chinese Puzzle (or "Casse-tete chinois," opening today) is an examination of how, despite growing older, one does not necessarily grow up. It follows a group of middle-aged people who, basically, act like children, in this fantastical and whimsical romantic comedy.

"Chinese Puzzle."
Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group, 2014. Used with permission.

Xavier (Romain Duris) lives in Paris and has two small children that are whisked away to New York by their mother, Wendy (Kelly Reilly). Unable to fathom them growing up outside of his presence, he decides to move to the States to be close to them. Conveniently, his lesbian friend Isabelle (Cecile De France) - whom he has donated sperm to - is also heading State-side.

Cue the somewhat effective, if overly cliched situational comedy. Xavier goes through typical immigration complications, fighting desperately to remain in New York while also needing to build a life for himself. He bickers with his wife who now lives with another man. Their lives interlock like scattered puzzle pieces.

Keeping things somewhat light - and full-heartedly foreign - are various cut-aways (aka hallucinations) that represent comical distractions to the current mess of events. There are sequences of animation that represent Xavier's previous life, as well as visits by famous philosophers along the way.

Lost on the mainstream audience will be the history behind these characters. Chinese Puzzle is actually the third in a trilogy of films featuring the same cast and characters, on the heels of 2003's L'Auberge Espagnole and 2006's, Russian Dolls. I must confess that I have not seen either of these previous films and although Chinese Puzzle was an enjoyable watch, I can't say that I found the characters interesting enough to go back and watch their earlier endeavors.

This is a film that focuses on life's complications, without ever feeling the need to deconstruct its complexities. At nearly two-hours, it may have lingered too long. But for those who were hankering for a sequel after Russian Dolls, it will feel like time well-spent.

Unfortunately, Chinese Puzzle is weakened by this lack of depth. The missing pieces to the puzzle may exist in the previous installments, but that doesn't quite bode well for the film to stand on its own. Still, the breezy charm of Chinese Puzzle is that it isn't intended to be taken too's adolescence through the eyes of adults.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Foreign

Run Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes, Rated R

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

Written & Directed by Cedric Klapisch (My Piece of the Pie, Russian Dolls, Paris)

Opens locally on Friday, June 6, 2014 (check for show times).

Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 10:30 p.m. EST every Sunday, on MYTV20 in Detroit.

How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"

  • 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
  • 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
  • 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
  • 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
  • 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time
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