I Love America | Review
I Never Sang for My Mother: Azuelos Mines Own Experiences for Dynamic Melodrama
Presenting a narrative partially autobiographical in nature with her latest film, I Love America, director Lisa Azuelos succeeds with her most stirring presentation yet of a mature woman searching for love, meaning, and contentment. Not to imply her previous body of work is marked by fluff and frivolity, but there’s a throbbing pain breaking the surface in what otherwise appears to be a cross-cultural lark about a woman finding unexpected romance.
Since the project is also a love letter to Los Angeles, a city presenting itself as an opportunity for rebirth, the title feels a bit misleading, even inept, as concerns the narrative’s themes and functions, without the handy excuse of intention lost in translation. The film also seems to solidify Azuelos’ use of Sophie Marceau as her onscreen alter ego, this being their third collaboration after LOL (2008) and A Chance Encounter (2014), granting the revered French star another chance at showcasing her eternal effervescence.
Lisa (Marceau), a successful film director, has decided to leave behind France and all the fraught energy shared with her mother by moving to Los Angeles. Landing in the City of Angels on Halloween, where she’s greeted by her friend Luka (Djanis Bouzyani), her glee is cut immediately short by a phone call confirming her ailing mother has decided to be euthanized. Lisa immediately flies back to France to say goodbye to a contentious relationship with the woman who foisted Lisa off as a child onto others while she went off and started another family. With this in the recent background, Lisa decides to distract herself while writing her next project, using dating apps at the prodding of Luka. After several awkward encounters, she meets John (Colin Woodell), who is much younger than she is, forcing her to lie about her age. When the truth of this is revealed, it compromises their tenuous romance
An interesting and unexpected byproduct in I Love America is the significant attenuation afforded Lisa’s gay best friend, Luka, played by a matter of fact Djanis Bouzyani, a character meant to support his heterosexual female bestie, but also with a separate romantic and sexual agenda all his own. Azuelos has often tried to interact specifically with contemporary realities of romance and social functionality, as perhaps best evidenced by her international breakthrough LOL, which Azuelos remade herself in English (2012’s version features Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore), so it’s refreshing to see such stark contrasts and snippets regarding Luka’s own romantic struggles.
Perhaps it’s the contribution of Azuelos’ co-writer Gael Fierro, but the gesture of showcasing the Sisyphean onslaught of gay hook-up culture while also allowing for an organic romantic connection regarding Luka’s character is unique in it’s straightforward positive reinforcement (even if a Brigitte Bardot in Contempt reference sounds more like the director’s POV than Luka’s). Like the romance developing between Lisa and Woodell’s John, Azuelos’ is underlining how past experiences shouldn’t dictate the interpretation of present opportunities, per se. There’s actual intelligent conversation about approaching love like Schrodinger’s box, where it is both present and absent until it’s (perhaps) jointly observed.
Adding an extra dimension is the knowledge of Azuelos being the daughter of famed singer Marie Laforet (who is featured on the soundtrack), their tempered relationship here navigated similarly by Marceau’s Lisa as doppelgänger. Sophie Verbeek even channels the look of Laforet in several 1974 flashbacks, here presented as a woman who likely had no interest in being a mother in the first place. The death of Lisa’s mother (which puts Marceau in a similar position to her character in Ozon’s Everything Went Fine, 2021) provides the sense of relief she needs to relinquish the past. Conjuring those kooky peripheral characterizations prone to pop up in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, including a well-utilized psychic and a Danish nudist, Azuelos succeeds with a compelling portrait of a woman reclaiming her comfort and creativity while being rewarded for it.