"Change of Plans": Did the French Do it Better?

Alison Bailes weighs in on an indie film adaptation

By Alison Bailes
Photograph: IFC Films

It’s always interesting to see what happens to foreign film titles once the film is released stateside. Sometimes there’s no real difference (Un prophete, Mesrine) but sometimes they just don’t work, or a play on words is lost in translation. For instance, the new Romain Duris film L’Arnacoeur (in select theaters September 10)  is a clever mash-up of the French word for scam (arnac) and the French word for heart (coeur). In English, the title becomes Heartbreaker—which fits, but doesn’t have the depth of the original.           
The new film Change of Plans from filmmaker Daniele Thompson (Avenue Montaigne, La Buche) also loses a little from its French title Le Code a Change. This phrase is repeated often throughout the film and refers to the door code to an apartment building. Friends and visitors alike struggle to enter the building due to it having been recently changed. On a subliminal level, it also refers to how a particular group of friends and family are affected by changing dynamics in their relationships. In French, there’s a clever double-entendre. In English, the title works on one level only, which is how the film itself might be described. 
Change of Plans is a drama/comedy revolving around a husband and wife who are having difficulties in their marriage. ML (Karin Viard) is a high-powered lawyer flirting with a new job, while her husband Piotr (Dany Boon) has just lost his. The film’s action centers on two dinner parties, each a year apart, that the couple throw for their friends and acquaintances. 
Arriving at the first dinner—separately—after a nasty argument are another husband and wife: Lucas, played by co-screenwriter (and the son of the director), Christopher Thompson, and Sarah, played by Emmanuelle Seigner. It turns out that Sarah knows Piotr from long ago and it quickly becomes clear that they will embark on an affair. Also in attendance is ML’s sister (Marina Hands), her new, much older lover (Patrick Chesnais), two doctors with big secrets and a couple of singletons who are connected to the cast in soon-to-be-discovered ways. Conversation meanders from the mundane to the profound. Dreams, fears and intentions are revealed—only to be confirmed or denied in the dinner party’s sequel the following year.
To describe a film as “soap opera-like” is to condescend to its intentions and achievements. But the comfort one gets from watching lively characters fight, make up, swap partners, etc. is nothing to be ashamed of. There’s humor to be had in watching how people present themselves to others, putting their best foot forward, disguising their inner feelings for the sake of decorum. Looking in from a safe remove, the problems of husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, lovers and ex-lovers can be engaging, even funny.  Much like Daniele Thompson’s prior films, Change of Plans won’t leave you more enlightened, or even give you much to mull over on the drive home from the theatre. But the dialogue snaps and even though the two dinner parties are a convenient contrivance, there’s fun to be had in spending time with these characters.

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