One Woman or Two

One Woman or Two is something of a French update on Bringing Up Baby, the classic comedy by Howard Hawks. In that 1938 film, Cary Grant played a strait-laced paleontologist who had the pins knocked out from under him by a freewheeling Katharine Hepburn.

In One Woman or Two, Gerard Depardieu plays the paleontologist, Sigourney Weaver plays the spirit of anarchy. But there all resemblance to the earlier film ends; One Woman or Two is a mess, and not a very funny one.

As the film opens, Depardieu is out on a dig in the French countryside, where he discovers the partial skeleton of a 2-million-year-old human. “The First Frenchwoman,” as he excitedly puts it.

Rushing to Paris to examine the skeleton is a philanthropist moneybags (played by sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer), who will fund further archaeological work if the discovery is important enough. But instead of picking her up at the airport, Depardieu erroneously latches on to another woman (Weaver), who goes along with the masquerade because she’s avoiding a crazy ex-lover.

Well, it’s all very complicated. And ridiculous: We’re mean to believe that Weaver, an ex-model who represents a perfume company, wants to use the 2-million-year-old woman for an expensive ad campaign. And that she would go along with the pretense just to avoid her ex. And that she would have dated this creep for five years, as she is supposed to have done.

The movie’s many lapses in plausibility aren’t smoothed over by any sort of vim or vigor. Daniel Vigne, the director/co-writer, who previously teamed with Depardieu on The Return of Martin Guerre, doesn’t display much comedic sense. Some of the physical ideas are funny: pairing off the shapelessness of Depardieu with the statuesque Weaver, and then throwing in sawed-off Dr. Ruth, has some possibilities. But the slapstick business falls flat in the general disorganization. There aren’t even any romantic sparks between the lead actors until the final clinch of the movie.

But forget about Depardieu and Weaver. Of course the question America is asking is: What about Dr. Ruth’s movie debut? The diminutive Westheimer acquits herself adequately, it must be reported, although not much is required of her. She appears to have been chosen in part because of her resemblance to the clay figure that Depardieu shapes as an approximation of his skeleton. (An unfortunate resemblance it is, too.) But the protection-minded sex guru inhabits the role with ease, and even gets through the whole film without warning anyone to use contraceptives.

First published in The Herald, February 1987

Vigne mostly directed in French television after this. I checked to see where this movie fell in Depardieu’s busy career, and it came just after Maurice Pialat’s Police and Bertrand Blier’s Menage, two chancy films from risk-taking auteurs. So, in case we have forgotten because of the man’s erratic behavior of late, he was on a roll. (For Weaver, it came between Ghostbusters and Aliens, so ditto.) The Dr. Ruth movie phenomenon did not really take off.

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