Woman navigates tricky later-in-life experiences. Is it Gloria? Thank God, no. I was actually a little surprised The Boy was amenable to seeing another one of these films, but On My Way starring Catherine Deneuve is a much better film (critics be damned).
Writer/Director Emmanuelle Bercot gives us everything Gloria did not: Bettie (Deneuve) is an aged former beauty queen and a widow who’s made a shamble of her life by pining for a married man who, she learns at the beginning of the movie, has impregnated a young 20-something.
Bettie goes for a drive across the French countryside where, apparently, it is nigh impossible to buy cigarettes. Her restaurant is a shambles: She’s disorganized and clearly not a business woman and, oh yeah, she leaves it to go for this long drive (but we’ll cut her some slack). She lives with her mom, but they’re not exactly friendly.
Soon we discover that she’s virtually completely alienated from her daughter, who’s interviewing for a job and needs to her to drive across country to be there by the next morning so her young son will have someone to watch him until the son’s paternal grandfather can take him.
The kid turns out to be something of a brat, damaged by the fractured family structure. Further, the grandfather seems to be an asshole, too. Bettie’s being approached by the organizers of the beauty pageant she didn’t win 45 years ago to make a calendar, and can’t even commit to that.
So, why did this work so well for us while Gloria failed? Well, first you actually get the backstory. Not all at once, mind you, and the first versions are often lies. Bettie is fond of telling the story of her husband’s death: He was with his mistress when he started choking on a chicken bone, the doctor who came to his aid was the mistress’s husband. The doctor was also Bettie’s lover.
There’s also the whole story of how Bettie ditched the “Miss France” competition. She seems like a flibbertigibbet but by the end it turns out there’s a lot more to the story than she ever lets on.
Everyone’s human. They all have a right to be pissed off and upset—but they’re also all abusing that right, and as the movie makes clear, the abuse of youth, love and sex is older than any given generation. In a that’s-so-French moment, there’s not even any real pieties like “Gee, maybe the next generation won’t be this foolish.” Nope: It’s just assumed that people will be foolish with love and sex until their youth fades.
So, yeah: The characters develop and are interesting. It’s funny in parts, touching without ever getting maudlin, earthy and romantic, oh, and despite old people having sex, the director felt no need to show us graphic sex scenes between septuagenarians.
Critics like this a lot less than Gloria, and per Rotten Tomatoes, audiences liked it slightly less. I’m gonna guess that’s because there’s a lot more pandering to the sort of audience that goes to see these films. (Gloria is portrayed as a somewhat noble character, while Bettie is more of a fool.)
Deneuve is wonderful. Bercot is arguably brutal in her portrayal of her, posing her in ways that seem geared to evoke the Deneuve of the ‘60s which, no matter how well preserved she is, she cannot possibly compete with today.
I thought that added an extra layer of poignancy to the proceedings but I note that The Boy, who knows nothing of her and hated Gloria, had much good to say about this outing.