‘Amélie’ at the Ahmanson: Charming Family Fare

The 2001 French-German film “Amélie” or as it was known in French, “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain” was a whimsical film about a shy, lonely young woman who finds love after helping other people out of the stagnation.

The film won four César Awards (Best Film, Best Director, Best Music and Best Production Design), two BAFTA Awards (Best Original Screenplay and Best Production Design) and was nominated for fives Oscars.

The Broadway-bound production premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre (Berkeley, CA) in September 2015 and runs at the Ahmanson  until 15 January 2017.

In my mind, I see a smiling pixie of a girl and a swirling skirt because the main theme is a lovely waltz, “La valse d’Amélie” (The Waltz of Amélie) and the movie ends with “La valse des monstres” (The Waltz of Monsters). In between, there is “L’autre valse d’̄Amélie” (The Other Waltz of Amélie) and “La valse des vieux os” (The Waltz of Old Bones).  Her parents are a cold couple who never hug her and when her physician father, Raphaël Poulain (Rufus),  gives her an annual physical exam, he mistakes her racing heart for a medical problem instead of excitement over a rare moment of physical connection. Her parents decide to home school her to protect her from the excitement of the outside world. So horribly icy is her home life that her only companion, a goldfish, becomes suicidal. The threesome frees the fish, but Amélie remains imprisoned by her parents’ isolationist tactics. When a suicidal Canadian jumps from a church and lands on Amélie’s mother, Amandine (Lorella Cravotta), making Amélie’s father a widower, Raphaël, withdraw even further. He focuses on making a memorial to his wife which is topped by a garden gnome that he had hidden in a shed because Amandine didn’t like it.

When Amélie turns 18 (now played by Audrey Tautou), she moves out and begins working at the Café des 2 Moulins (Two Windmills) in Montmartre where she becomes familiar with the quirky regulars.  On 30 August 1997, Amélie drops the top of a perfume bottle and that leads to the discovery of a hiding place where she finds an old metal box with what had been the treasures of a previous resident. Determined to return the box, Amélie begins an odyssey during which she finds pleasure in doing good deeds, sometimes by playing tricks on the unkind, and eventually this leads her to romance.

You might have forgotten that the movie was rated R for sexual content. There the biological union between a motile sperm and an ovum and female nudity before the title flashes on the screen as well as the portray of sex between different characters. One of the characters is shown working at a peep show, dancing topless.

For the musical, Craig Lucas (book) and Daniel Messé have taken the story Director Jean-Piere Jeunet formulated the story with Guillaume Laurant who when wrote the screenplay and cleaned it up for a PG-13 audience.

The basic framework of the film remains. Before the curtains open, we see a slightly askew large picture frame with various photos set inside. The frame becomes a doorway before opening up on Amélie’s home (Savvy Crawford as the young Amélie). More is made of Amélie’s friendship with her fish, Fluffy (Paul Whitty). Amélie’s mother, Almandine (Alison Cimmet) dies but is hit by an obviously fake dummy.

This is a very American take on France.  If you were in love with the original soundtrack by Yann Tiersen, you might be disappointed. There are no accordions (keyboard, woodwinds, violin, viola, harp, guitar, percussion, bass, trombone) and the story needed to have musical exposition where there was none in the movie.

As Amélie, Phillipa Soo is vibrant and there’s a lovely moment when we see the older Amélie with the younger. The graphics, some of which mimics chalkboard drawings, creatively provide

Amélie: A New Musical” captures some of the charm and whimsy of the original, but the full measure of this fable about an impish introvert is best appreciated in the film. “Amélie: A New Musical” continues at the Ahmanson until 15 January 2017.

“Amélie” is currently available on Amazon Video ($2.99) and Netflix.

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