A deliciously funny romantic comedy, I Got Life is a reminder that with love and determination, there’s always hope. In the picturesque seaside town of La Rochelle, Aurore (Agnès Jaoui) is having a bad day. Pre-menopausal hot flushes, a husband who’s decamped to have babies with a young woman, a sleazy boss, and a newly pregnant daughter – everything is conspiring to overwhelm her. This could go all Ken Loach and pear-shaped.
Things get worse, of course – but funny. In a succession of set-pieces, pretty much comedy sketches, Aurore hits her head against a wall: the wall of age, it seems. Her doctor tells her that her life as a woman can now only go downhill, and that she must accept her lot. Lucie (Lou Roy-Lecollinet), her youngest daughter, tells her she is leaving home, to live in Spain; Aurore mourns the passing of her years of motherhood. After her boss Seb (Nicolas Chupin, in a delightfully awful cameo) fudges her demotion, by explaining to her that she is now transitioning from bee to queen bee, she quits her job in revolt. At her local job centre, she is told that as she has left voluntarily, she will have to accept any job going, quickly – there won’t be any financial help.
The witticisms come thick and fast, and all the clichés about a woman’s decline into lonesome decrepitude flash before her eyes. She takes up odd cleaning jobs. One of her fellow cleaners, even more over-qualified for the job, remarks with a smile that it is only as they get older that ‘Whites’ discover discrimination. But with that discovery come many other happier ones. Out of the blue, she bumps into her first love, Totoche (Thibault de Montalembert).
Just like in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the path to true love does not run smooth. Totoche is still not over the pain of their erstwhile breakup, and Aurore, though drawn to him, is on the verge of making the same mistake she made when she was young: getting distracted by the wrong man. Aurore kisses a few frogs along the way, proof that getting older does not get in the way of romantic misadventures.
The charm of I Got Life is that it describes something universal: that feeling of waking up one morning and feeling absolutely daunted by life – that the day can only get worse – and then by evening discovering that everything, after all, has gone rather well. It’s a feelgood movie, for almost everyone, apart – maybe – for those, who like Aurore’s very funny, dishevelled ex-husband (Philippe Rebbot), panic so much at the word ‘menopause’ that they block their ears and sing ‘lalala’. That moment between former wife and husband is one of many amusing scenes in a film which cheerfully pushes at discomfort.
Aurore’s irrepressible best friend Mano (Pascale Arbillot) is especially good at provoking moments where the only option is to duck and cringe. Her favourite, and pretty reckless, trick is one that has unexpected consequences for both Aurore and herself.
Neatly structured, at just 89 minutes, the film zips along despite a few didactic moments. In a perhaps too obvious metaphor, Aurore keeps walking into automatic glass doors which refuse to open despite her best efforts: somehow the sensors fail to spot her. In an obvious but brief teaching scene, French philosopher Françoise Héritier talks about women’s place in society. Somehow the moment works, and the film’s flow is unimpeded.
There’s a sense of fun and romance to the whole thing, despite the theme, and it feels contagious. Things do not go pear-shaped, and neither does Aurore (Agnès Jaoui has commented that it is a pleasure now to play roles which don’t require a matchstick physique). There are moments of lyricism, and even operatic ones, as Aurore and her amoureux Totoche go on an awkward date in a bel canto restaurant, where the waiters sing airs from Carmen, Rigoletto and Lakmé.
The film’s title is based on a Nina Simone song, later revealed to be cherished by Aurore and her daughters. The story is moved along by well-timed comedy – it has panache, brio, and physicality. It turns out to be more about an interior journey and less about the force of other people’s prejudices, and Aurore, as in most romantic comedies, is saved by the possibility of love. She takes in good humour what life throws at her.
Some viewers have quibbled. Despite her situation, Aurore has a lovely house, and shows no sign of financial stress. And her existential problem is solved more by a man than by her good humour. No matter: there is a scene at the heart of the film, a school reunion, where an old classmate, chatting with Aurore, abruptly staggers in utter disbelief, before turning away. It is funny to the point of tears, and illuminating: Aurore’s problem, and everyone else’s, is not ageing itself, but rather that in time, chickens come to roost. Is it ever too late to save the day?
Director: Blandine Lenoir
Screenplay: Blandine Lenoir, Océane Rose Marie, Jean-Luc Gaget
Cinematography: Pierre Milon
Cast: Agnès Jaoui, Pascale Arbillot, Thibault de Montalembert, Philippe Rebbot, Nicolas Chupin, Lou Roy-Lecollinet, Sarah Suco, Laure Calamy, Samir Guesmi
First published on MyFilmClub, March 2018