The social satire in the second theatrical release from French novelist, playwright and writer-director Amanda Sthers can't quite be described as "biting." Co-written by American New Wave veteran Matthew Robbins (“The Sugarland Express,” “Jaws”) the story is too drawn-out and passive to be pointed, but there's still plenty there to chew on.
The plot hangs on a superstition—13 guests at a dinner party is unlucky. And on this particular night newly broke Americans in Paris Anne (Toni Collette) and Bob (Harvey Keitel) need all the luck they can get; to keep up appearances, Bob must liquidate his treasured Caravaggio. To that end, they've invited a group of well-heeled friends, along with mild-mannered British art dealer David (Michael Smiley), to dine at their ornate apartment.
All is going to plan when Steven (Tom Hughes), Bob's son from his previous marriage, shows up, and Bob, without consulting Anne, invites him to dinner. Not wanting there to be 13 place settings, Anne bullies their housekeeper Maria (Rossy de Palma) into evening out the group. Anne introduces Maria—now dressed in a tacky white tea-length gown and glittery shoes—as an old friend, but bored wastrel Steven (played just as smugly as Hughes portrays Prince Albert in the TV series Victoria), despite a close relationship with Maria, lures in the bootlick David by intimating she is a member of the Spanish aristocracy.
What follows departs from the precedent set by previous comedies of manners, sparing us the usual night of hysterical antics and tell-all quarreling, though it could easily have gone that way. Maria isn't the only diner with a secret: the potential buyer for the painting, the smarmy Antointe (Stanislas Merhar), seems to want to possess all that Bob has, including Anne, though his wife, Hélène (Violaine Gillibert), is Anne's friend.
Surprisingly, the evening comes to a quiet close, with Maria the reluctant center of attention. The sale of the painting now depends only on its verification, and A-ha! The theme emerges. Integrity is what's being tested here. Maria temporarily forgets she has it under the attentions of David, but gets it back when the flirtation becomes more serious. The arriviste Anne, who it turns out was once Bob's golf pro, never had it and never will. David doesn't seem to notice it's missing, but then again there's a lot that goes unnoticed by him. The worst of them is Steven, whose pot-stirring has all been in service of breaking his spell of writer's block.
It's about time de Palma, whose striking asymmetry has made her the standard-bearer of unconventional beauty, takes center stage. She came to prominence when Pedro Almodóvar cast her in 1988's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and since has appeared in eight of Almodóvar's movies but usually in a supporting role. So it's difficult to believe that David, in the film's most heart-wrenching scene, doesn't notice Maria as she serves him tea when the rest of us can't stop looking at her.