A COUCH IN NEW YORK (Un divan à New York)

(director/writer: Chantal Akerman; screenwriter: Jean-Louis Benoît; cinematographer: Dietrich Lohmann; editor: Claire Atherton; music: Sonia Wieder-Atherton; cast: Juliette Binoche (Beatrice Saulnier), William Hurt (Dr. Henry Harriston), Stephanie Buttle (Anne), Barbara Garrick (Lizbeth Honeywell), Paul Guilfoyle (Dennis); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Régine Konckier; Fox Lorber; 1996)


“I expected to hear canned laughter to really give it the full TV sitcom treatment.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It was hard to believe a Chantal Akerman (“Golden Eighties”/”Je Tu Il Elle”/”News from Home”) film can be so inert. The talented Belgian filmmaker, in this commercial venture, dishes out a formulaic sitcom romantic comedy without any heat for romance or anything funny. The script by Akerman and Jean-Louis Benoît is a dog, the acting is poor (the stars Hurt and Binoche are miscast, they just have no gift for comedy) and the story line is saddled with an awful cute premise that is forced-fed with dollops of artificial wackiness and becomes worse with every embellishment. I expected to hear canned laughter to really give it the full TV sitcom treatment.

A wealthy but glum and world-weary big-time New York psychiatrist Dr. Henry Harriston (William Hurt) and a bubbly young carefree Parisian dancer named Beatrice Saulnier (Juliette Binoche) swap apartments while each is on vacation. Her apartment is a messy bohemian dump, his is palatial and neat. When mistaken by a patient for Dr. Harriston’s summer replacement, Beatrice sweetly administers therapy for the usual fee and a stream of his patients for some reason follow suit (we are supposed to believe the wealthy patients were never informed that there would be no replacement). The big joke is that doc’s patients begin to improve under her care and his pet golden retriever gets more peppy and his stomach problems subside, as a number of awkward and belabored scenes convey this silliness. Meanwhile in Paris, her phone constantly rings with her desperate boyfriends dying to see her. Henry has enough of this and bolts from Paris, and secretly comes home (of course, the big-time shrink doesn’t phone to let anyone know about the change in plans-if you believe that, then I’ve got a good price for you to buy the Brooklyn Bridge) and finds everything is improving without him, including the house plants. Things creatively degenerate even further downhill when Henry pretends to be a patient of Beatrice and his transformation is complete when the opposites fall in love. Maybe Cary Grant could have pulled it off, Lubitsch would have given it his golden touch and Audrey Hepburn would have been more believable and real, but the ones who tried to pull the wool over our eyes with this mess were just fish out of their element who could only deliver a bomb.

REVIEWED ON 8/7/2007 GRADE: D  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/