Written & Directed by Cédric Klapisch
Produced by Bruno Levy
Released by Cohen Media Group
English and French with English subtitles
France/USA/Belgium. 117 min. Rated R
With Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile de France, and Kelly Reilly

Following L’Auberge Espagnole and Russian Dolls, Chinese Puzzle, Cédric Klapisch’s third installment in his “Spanish Apartment” trilogy, is a study in ambivalence. It riffs on every sappy, rom-com cliché imaginable, and I enjoyed all 117 minutes of it. Recounting the familial dilemmas of Xavier, a 39-year-old French novelist played charismatically by Romain Duris, the film begins in the middle of things—an appropriate place to start considering the disposition of our main character, who is utterly befuddled by how complicated life can be.

A father of two, Xavier has lived happily in Paris with his English wife, Wendy (Kelly Reilly), for the past 10 years. The family is irritatingly attractive and resides in a shabby-chic apartment in the heart of the city. Yet one day, Wendy informs Xavier that she has met someone else while on a business trip in New York, and intends to move there immediately with the kids.

Despite a few spats, this goes smoothly to an unbelievable extent. Wendy packs up the children and boards a westward plane with the informal ease of brushing her teeth, and nary one lawyer gets involved. Clearly, suspending my disbelief on such a detail was difficult, but it wasn’t a game-changing aspect. Instead of waging a custody battle, levelheaded Xavier moves to New York and stays with his best friend, who has also conveniently moved there for romance a few months prior.

Humbled by the city, Xavier rents a crappy apartment in Chinatown, and takes on a bicycle messenger job to stay afloat. Concerned with his immigration status, he marries a Chinese-American woman, the niece of a taxi driver he did a favor for. The marriage is entirely out of convenience, and the film portrays it in a humorous light.

Xavier’s days are extremely busy—he works by day, writes his novel by night, and sees his children as often as possible. Now that he and Wendy are on the same turf, they argue about how the children should be raised: what school they should go to, etc. The single father seems to have no time to date, and the only women in his life are his ex-wife, his lesbian best friend (Cécile de France), and his college girlfriend, Martine (Audrey Tautou), who occasionally visits on business trips. Romance eventually floats into Xavier’s life in the most predictable of ways. This is certainly not the kind of film that keeps you guessing.

That being said, it is a well-cast movie. The actors all drip with charm and perform to a standard that is on par with, but not exceeding, the quality of a feel-good movie. The dialogue is peppered with wit, and the jokes actually bring about laughter. The film stands on its own two feet in the sense that one can enjoy it without seeing the two other films in the trilogy. Chinese Puzzle is at best cute, and at worst, watchable.