Credit: MPI Media Group
by Michael Sicinski Featured Film Spotlight

Coup de Chance — Woody Allen

April 2, 2024

The title of Woody Allen’s latest film translates as “a lucky break,” and that’s an apt enough way to characterize his ability to line up a team of French producers to help him finance this, his 50th feature film. There have been reports in Variety and elsewhere about urban cinephiles setting up clandestine, invitation-only screenings of the film in the basements of bars, presumably a kind of protest against a “cancel culture” that prevents Allen’s films from getting the treatment these fans think they deserve. Well, they needn’t have bothered. Not only is Coup de Chance receiving an actual American release (courtesy of MPI Media Group), but there is very little apart from the French language that sets Coup de Chance apart from a number of much better Allen productions. 

In fact, this film is such a shameless rehash that it’s fair to wonder whether it was actually an old script, or even a previous draft of Match Point, the film it most closely resembles. But Allen aficionados will also detect thundering echoes of Crimes and Misdemeanors, and even a soupçon of Cassandra’s Dream. And while the Parisian setting might suggest that Allen has taken a logical next step from the European tourism of Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and (ugh) To Rome with Love, there’s actually very little in this film that could not have just as easily transpired on the streets of New York, assuming he could avoid being pelted with garbage.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Fanny (Lou de Laâge) is a young gallery worker married to Jean (Melvil Poupaud), an affable but mysterious millionaire. (When asked about his job, he simply says: “I help make rich people richer.”) The marriage is reasonably happy, even though Fanny feels a bit like Jean’s “trophy wife” (an expression that the French speakers use in English, as a kind of derogatory loaner word). By chance, Fanny runs into an old college friend, Alain (Niels Schneider), who doesn’t hold back, explaining that he’s always harbored a massive crush on Fanny. Before long, they have started having an affair, something Jean figures out rather quickly. (Fanny is a lousy liar.) And so, this shady rich guy makes some calls, taking matters into his own hands.

Watching Coup de Chance, it’s hard to remember that Woody Allen was once a skilled filmmaker. So much of the dialogue consists of clunky exposition. Alain, for example, continually announces that he is a writer, and at a party, Jean’s friends have a “casual” discussion about the unsolved death of Jean’s old business partner. At other moments, actors simply recite bourgeois cliches (“good help is so hard to find”) or speak like they learned to talk by watching film noir (“that ‘problem’ has been taken care of”). In its overall structure and its moment-to-moment articulation, Coup de Chance is lifeless and rote, the product of an auteur on autopilot. Where Crimes and Misdemeanors conveyed its themes through intricacies of plot and character, Coup de Chance has Jean announce Allen’s subtext with the subtlety of a trumpeting elephant: “I don’t believe in chance. I make my own luck.”

Does this foreshadow an unexpected intervention of fate, Jean’s best laid plans foiled by random, unforeseen events?  That won’t be spoiled here, but what can be said is that Coup de Chance’s only signal that Allen’s sensibility has progressed has to do with the soundtrack selections. The Woodman has apparently discovered mid-’60s jazz fusion, and at three points in the film he plays Herbie Hancock’s 1964 jam “Cantaloupe Island.” Those of us who’ve been awake for the last 50 years will recognize it as the track that jazz/hip-hop collective Us3 sampled for their 1993 hit “Cantaloop.” There’s temptation to remark that Woody Allen is probably unaware of hip-hop of any kind, but he’s actually probably smarter than that, at least on an unconscious level. He’s chosen the perfect track to signify the loop he’s been stuck in for nearly 25 years.

DIRECTOR: Woody Allen;  CAST: Lou de Laâge, Melvil Poupaud, Niels Schneider, Valérie Lemercier;  DISTRIBUTOR: MPI International;  IN THEATERS: April 5;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 36 min.