French actress Mélanie Laurent (‘Inglourious Basterds’) makes her directorial debut with this female-focused drama. She plays Lisa, a single mother in Lyon who’s close to her adopted sister Marine (Marie Denarnaud), who works in a local bookshop. Their relationship verges on the co-dependent, so Lisa is none too pleased when flirtatious restaurant critic Alex (Denis Menochet) crashes into the store and Marie’s life. Lisa’s emotions are tested further when tragedy strikes.
Up to this point ‘The Adopted’ is a charming indie drama – perhaps a little contrived, but glowing with good humour and neat observations. The relationship between Marie and Alex is beautifully drawn; from tentative beginnings to the passionate honeymoon period and first fall-outs. Both actors are strong, Menochet’s earthy presence recalling the terrific opening scene of ‘Inglourious Basterds’, in which he starred with Christoph Waltz. Laurent, meanwhile, is luminous as ever.
So it’s something of a disappointment when this swerves from light drama into melodrama; not just because it’s depressing, but because director and co-writer Laurent does the former better. Sentiment sometimes gets the better of her and developments feel inevitable, meaning the last half of the film lacks a clear aim. There are poignant moments, though, and slight comic touches remain, mostly courtesy of supporting characters such as the girls’ glamorous, boozy mother Millie (Clémentine Célarié of ‘Betty Blue’).
‘The Adopted’ serves as a calling card for Laurent, who displays a flair for character-based humour as well as strong visual direction. But it may be that audiences – like her characters – wish life could have just gone on as normal.