Most of My Piece of the Pie functions as an odd-couple story with a timely edge on class structure and the status of the world’s economy. These initial sections of the film are routine and structurally and thematically predictable, but at least they hold their own with some decent performances and a few well-placed moments of levity. But then we’re smacked upside the head with a final act that’s unpleasant, grossly implausible, and painfully misguided in its efforts to make a statement. It starts with that most reliable of plot devices, a surprise twist, and finishes ambiguously, satisfying writer/director Cédric Klapisch’s desire to symbolically reveal the state of the world we live in. I’m not here to say that he isn’t making a valid point. He is, however, going about it the wrong way.
It begins in the French seaside village of Dunkirk, where, thanks to outsourcing, a factory has just been shut down. For the aptly named France (Karin Viard), a blue-collar worker, the news comes as a devastating shock, and she’s introduced lying in a hospital bed after a failed suicide attempt. She’s a single mom with three children, and she’s now faced with the task of finding a new job. She decides to travel to Paris, where she trains to become a housekeeper. Getting her into the program requires some fudging of the truth, as it’s specifically designed for immigrant women; she gets through with a Russian accent and a booming personality. She’s then assigned to the luxurious apartment of a wealthy power broker named Steve (Gilles Lellouche), who has just returned to Paris after living in London for ten years.
Steve is handsome, but he’s also cocky, and he doesn’t know the first thing about relating to women. This is evidenced by an unnecessary scene in which he tries to woo a French model by taking her on a trip to Venice, where he lavishes her with expensive gifts. He is, of course, only interested in sex, and he takes great offense when the young woman announces that she never makes love on the first date. She is but one of several women in his life. It seems the only thing Steve does know how to do is make money. France notices this, and after a very short period of time, she feels bold enough to dispense her wisdom about women. The surprising thing is that he seems willing to listen – and this is after introducing himself to her as the workaholic hardass.
The situation begins to change after the unexpected revelation that Steve is the father of a little boy named Alban (Lunis Sakji). The kid is dropped off by his mother, who’s about to go away on a month-long vacation to Thailand. Naturally, Steve completely forgot about this arrangement. He’s now faced with taking care of a child, which he doesn’t know the first thing about. Luckily, he has France, who has experience with children. He promotes her to the position of nanny, with a 100-euro salary increase as an incentive. France is thrilled by the extra money, although it comes with an unfortunate tradeoff, namely spending more and more time away from her own children, who she used to visit every weekend. In the process of staying in Paris, France pushes Steve inch by inch towards becoming a respectable man; he learns about communicating with women, he begins to appreciate his son, and he finally admits that being rich isn’t making him happy.
On the basis of what I’ve just described, you’d think this movie would do just fine as a Hollywood romantic comedy. But don’t be too hasty. There’s a darker side to this story, and it reveals itself not long after the aforementioned plot twist. It’s founded on an innately cinematic coincidence, which would be fine were it not for the fact that Klapisch was striving for a realistic depiction of current economic conditions. What begins as implausible quickly becomes unsavory, as we learn that neither Steve nor France are as innocent as they initially seemed. We then end on an unresolved, highly unsatisfying note. There’s nothing wrong with refusing to tie up stories in neat little packages, although it helps if you make sure the tone is balanced out along the way.
To be sure, I know what Klapisch is trying to say: Globalization and the digital revolution have stripped the industrial world of any value it once had, thus creating a rift between finance and labor. And of course, we all want our piece of the pie. What I don’t understand is why Klapisch had to make this statement in this particular way. I find it hard to accept when it relies on an ending that requires not only tremendous suspension of disbelief but also a different, less sympathetic viewpoint of its main characters. My Piece of the Pie has a few well-written moments, and I certainly enjoyed the performances by Viard and Lellouche, who do have natural onscreen chemistry. Unfortuantely, the way it ultimately delivers its message does a lot more harm than good.