STREAMING REVIEW: Walk Right Past ‘The Lady In The Car’

“The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” is a French psychological thriller about a beautiful secretary who may be losing her mind.

Dany (Freya Mavor) is dressed like Little Orphan Annie meets a librarian in a red top with a white collar, oversized glasses and a tight ponytail. “I’ve never seen the sea,” she says in a voiceover. She rubs a tiny gold cross around her neck as her colleagues talk of their weekend plans. Director Joann Sfar wastes no time setting the agenda and communicating Dany’s character.

Michel and Anita (Benjamin Biolay and Stacy Martin) entrust their car to Dany (Mavor) to return safely to Paris. But nothing is what it seems in this French thriller. Netflix.com
Michel and Anita (Benjamin Biolay and Stacy Martin) entrust their car to Dany (Mavor) to return safely to Paris. But nothing is what it seems in this French thriller. Netflix.com

Her boss Michel (Benjamin Biolay) solicits Dany’s help with transcribing a 50-page manuscript on short notice. The deadline’s tight, so she does it at his house. (His wife and daughter are there.) She finishes the document just in time to drive them to the airport the next morning, but now, she’s gotta drive the family car back to Paris.

And the car. It’s a baby blue Thunderbird, and when Dany first sets eyes on it, the camera zooms in on its features with a sexy acoustic tune in the background. This is Dany’s way to see the sea, but she’s too scared to drive it.

 Freya Mavor stars in “The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun.” Netflix.com
Freya Mavor stars in “The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun.” Netflix.com

After a number of drinks and talking herself up, she gets behind the wheel. And very last-minute, almost dangerously, she takes the highway exit that leads to her blue water.

As Dany nears the sea, as her personal liberation mounts, weird things start happening.

Dany makes some stops along the way. She buys a fancy bag at a designer shop. She has coffee at a cafe/gas station. (They have those in France.) She’s walking with gusto and confidence. And people start to recognize her from earlier in the day.

But she’s never met them before, or has she?

It becomes increasingly easier to accept that Dany’s losing it.

She’s isolated for a lot of the film, and director Sfar has been including split-screen images of violence from the get-go — seemingly dead people, lots of cuts to red imagery, and one of Dany’s daydreams goes from sexy to intimately violent.

In another expertly shot/edited scene, Dany is dancing by the sea. It’s unclear if this is past, present or imaginary. She shakes her head hard from side to side, and this scene is spliced with a scene of a potentially fictitious attacker shaking Dany’s head in the same regard.

The heart of this film is answering: is she crazy and has she been attacked?

It’s a suspenseful premise, sure, but the effects and the questioning get so tedious that it’s difficult to stay invested in the story and the character.

In one scene, Dany runs into a man at a hotel, and they share a verbal familiarity. It’s unclear if they’ve met before, but his behavior points to “yes, and they’ve probably had sex.” Here’s where Dany’s unreliable narrator tendencies make for viewer confusion, some annoyance and then some checking Facebook on the smartphone.

Mavor and Elio Germano.
Does Dany (Mavor) actually know this guy?

Technically, “The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” feels like a David Lynchian wannabe. It uses music and piercing sound well to create suspense in post-production and in the setting. In a scene, all the streetlamps have red bulbs. And there’s another scene where Dany and the mystery man are by a creek, and director Sfar incessantly cuts to closeups of running water with the sound cranked to the max. It’s effectively suspense-building and gross.

“The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” is based on a 1970’s French film of the same name, and this movie could’ve stayed in the past.

The whole catalyst for this roadtrip is Michel needs Dany’s typewriting skills to transcribe a document ASAP, so she needs to spend the night. (What, no email?) Michel sends mixed messages when he goes into Dany’s apartment to use her corded telephone. (Remember those?) The pacing is almost quick enough to gloss over these details. That said, they’re not deal breakers.

Some pros are the music, crystal clear cinematography and sound editing, but the performances are lukewarm at best.

Freya Mavor is beautiful and appropriately mousy when needed, but she doesn’t have the acting chops to hold the show. Benjamin Biolay as Michel and Stacy Martin as his wife, Anita, are both handsome and mostly one-dimensional — perhaps as they should be. This film’s all about Dany and her isolation, which is a fourth character here — the antagonist driving her actions.

“The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” isn’t worth seeing a first or second time — unless you’re writing about it.

Grade: D

“The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun”

Starring: Freya Mavor, Benjamin Biolay, Stacy Martin

Writers: Patrick Godeau and Gilles Marchand (screenplay); Sébastien Japrisot (novel)

Director: Joann Sfar

Time: 1:33

Rating: NR (nudity, violence)

Available: Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix Instant, VUDU

More info: magpictures.com/theladyinthecar