Friday, January 05, 2018

The April Fools (1969)

I had never heard of this 1969 comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Catherine Deneuve until last night, when I came across a DVD copy while browsing at the video store. I always enjoy Jack Lemmon, especially in his films from around this era, when he seemed to specialize in playing uptight middle-class white-collar types who undergo a personal transformation, often as a result of his relationship with a free-spirited type who opens him to new experiences. From the plot description, it was also clear that this would be one of those films from that transitional period in Hollywood when the movies were dealing with the changing times, new freedoms and permissiveness of the post-Production Code era. And the pairing of Lemmon with Catherine Deneuve was intriguing enough in itself for me to check it out.

The April Fools is steeped in late-60s New York chic. The film begins swiftly as Wall Street broker Howard Brubaker (Lemmon) is arriving at a big Manhattan office building to accept a new promotion. His boss (Peter Lawford) is in the process of throwing a big office party, filled with beautiful people. Lemmon awkwardly tries to ingratiate himself with the crowd, but things only start to pick up when he meets a young French woman, Catherine (Deneuve) -- who, unbeknownst to Lemmon, also happens to be the boss's wife. The two leave the party together and spend the night wandering around Manhattan, enjoy an evening with a freewheeling, funloving older married couple (Myrna Loy and Charles Boyer, who are an absolute delight to watch). By morning, the unhappily married Brubaker and the unhappily married Catherine have fallen in love with each other. In fact, they are so deeply in love that both immediately take steps to quit their jobs and leave their spouses to run off to Paris together.

There is much to enjoy in The April Fools. Lemmon and Deneuve give fine performances, and are ably supported by a strong cast including Sally Kellerman (as Lemmon's distant and selfish wife), Jack Weston (as Lemmon's alcoholic friend), Harvey Korman (as an oversexed suburban lothario), and Kenneth Mars and Melinda Dillon (as a "sensitive" New Age couple). Unfortunately, these supporting characters are a little too one-note, with too little screen time, to really make much of them, but these performers all shine whenever they are on-screen. The film also features the Burt Bacharach-Hal David classic "I Say a Little Prayer" (although Dionne Warwick performs the film's title tune, she does not perform this song here, which was a hit for her when she recorded it).

Where The April Fools falls apart is in its superficial treatment of its premise. The events transpire entirely too quickly, and with only the flimsiest of motivation, resulting in an unsatisfactory conclusion that feels both rushed and empty. The implications of such major decisions as leaving one's career and family behind are largely unexplored, and the script seems to be in such a hurry for Lemmon and Deneuve to pair up and fly off to Paris together that it never fully manages to convince us that there is necessarily much potential in the relationship.

The avoidance of dealing with these issues in any depth is perhaps necessary for the romance to resolve itself within the expectations of light romantic comedy. The hollowness of this romantic triumph reveals the underlying desperation of the protagonists -- successful people surrounded by all the trappings and excesses of material culture, but frantically searching for something real in their lives.

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