Directed by Anne Fontaine
Produced by Francis Boespflug, Philippe Carcassonne, Bruno Pesery & Jérôme Seydoux
Written by Fontaine & Nicholas Mercier
Released by Strand Releasing
French with English subtitles
France. 103 min. Not rated
With Isabelle Huppert, Benoît Poelvoorde, André Dussollier & Virginie Efira

Anne Fontaine has had a curious career. The French director has made some sophisticated and provocative films, like Dry Cleaning, How I Killed My Father, and Nathalie, all with ringing insights into the psychology of romantic and familial relationships. But she’s also interspersed more frivolous fare into her oeuvre, like the innocuous The Girl from Monaco, the conventional biopic Coco Before Chanel, and now her latest, the paper-thin romantic comedy My Worst Nightmare.

Agathe (Isabelle Huppert), an elegant, high-powered head of an art foundation, lives with her publisher-partner François (André Dussollier) and teenage son in one of the poshest Parisian neighborhoods. Patrick (Benoît Poelvoorde), a working-class slob, is a single dad to his teenage son, but he’s on the verge of losing custody to social services because of his precarious financial situation and ramshackle living conditions. (Father and son currently reside in the back of a van).

Agathe and Patrick meet cute when they both attend a meeting at their sons’ school: he assumes she’s the head of the school because of her self-assurance. They re-meet cute when he comes by her beautifully appointed apartment to pick up his son, who happens to be good friends with Agathe’s son. She has an immediate revulsion to the crude, often vulgar womanizer (he blurts out any sexist thing that’s on his mind, and when rebuffed, he says, “If a girl’s IQ is over 80, my charm stops working”), but he hits it off with François, and Patrick is soon over at their place daily renovating their bathroom.

After the men bond by sharing beers, François falls for Julie (Virginie Efira), Patrick’s uncommonly helpful social worker, who promises an exciting new life for the much older man, bored by the dull dinner parties and openings he’s been attending with Agathe for years. Now separated and dejected, Agathe slowly warms to Patrick in the tradition of countless other movies, plays, and TV shows, realizing after much resistance that being with an annoying, even offensive, barbarian has its advantages.

Although Fontaine is obviously slumming, even by her fluctuating standards, My Worst Nightmare lopes along agreeably, finding the occasional funny line or situation that doesn‘t pander to the Patricks in the audience. But for every glimpse of Agathe drinking white wine with ice cubes after she begins seeing Patrick, there are eye-rolling slapstick bits, like Patrick breaking holes in the bathroom wall while Agathe takes a shower or François unable to handle Julie’s hobbies, like zip lining through a forest. And pat comic ironies—Agathe’s son’s a cheater at school while Patrick’s son is as smart as a whip—also expose the laziness of the script.

What makes the movie watchable is the cast, especially the two leads. Huppert, an incisive, unmannered actress, plays it cool and makes Agathe believable, even in the narrow confines of her character, while Poelvoorde, as Patrick, is unafraid to scrape the bottom of the barrel, maintaining his dignity even while behaving insensitively or worse, which is often in this frustratingly scattershot comedy.