84 Writing—or at least typing—always looks a little silly onscreen, but Stephen Frears (The Grifters, The Queen) makes the craft look especially preposterous in the opening minutes of Tamara Drewe, which find the denizens of a British writer's retreat clacking out inanities on laptops. They are no more dignified in their lives. "Can I tempt you?" the colony's proprietress (Tamsin Greig) asks as she passes around a tray of biscuits, and of course nobody can say no to any carnal appetite—especially not after the homecoming of Tamara (Gemma Arterton), a local girl who returns with her nose smaller and other places grown significantly. The movie, based on a comic by Posy Simmonds, is the sort of barbed romantic farce Kingsley Amis used to specialize in, and the best schemer in the roundelay is a rather Kingsleyian rotter, a philandering mystery novelist played by Roger Allam (if anybody's out there casting for a Christopher Hitchens biopic, you've found your man). Everyone in the picture—even the tabloid-perusing schoolgirls—wants something they haven't got, and everyone is just horrible enough that you're dying to know what their comeuppance will be. (It involves cows. Lots of cows.) As the season of bloated, tony films starts its boring trudge, Frears has snuck in a deliciously toxic little bonbon. R. AARON MESH. Fox Tower.
36 Poor, poor Jean. The Frenchman spends his days building houses, his afternoons washing his elderly dad's feet and his evenings with his pretty wife and adoring son. It's all so soul-crushingly normal. But when he takes on a job for his son's teacher, Véronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain), the builder's measured world begins to quake a bit as he tries to stifle his growing attraction to the birdlike blonde. There are lovely moments in this dull drama—like the way the camera lingers on the line of Véronique's neck as Jean watches her saw away at her violin—but director Stéphane Brizé has confused boredom with depth of feeling, creating a dreary, plodding tone unrelieved by a single second of humor or joy. Vincent Lindon's Jean is a high point: a taciturn man's man who actually vibrates with need when he's near Véronique, so torn by emotion that it seems he wants to strike her as much as kiss her. For him, the prospect of an affair may be as much about escaping life, even a good one, rather than pursuing a lover. I have no doubt that this is what real infidelity looks like, and Brizé could be commended for capturing all the frailty and pain of adult relationships, but movies are not real life—thank God. They are far shorter and, with any luck, more interesting. After 70 minutes of meaningful stares, meaningful pauses and meaningful violin solos, I was begging for a fiery explosion or partial nudity or even a good Lifetime cancer scare. I can't believe I'm saying this, but you might just want to rent The Bridges of Madison County and call it good. KELLY CLARKE. Fox Tower.