Flashback to Paris in the 1970s where Dany (Skins alum Freya Mavor) is a quiet secretary with a romantic imagination when it comes to her married boss Michel (Benjamin Biolay). When he asks her to do some extra work on a tight deadline and invites her to use the guest room at his house, timid Dany is unable to say no. The following day, Michel asks her to drive with them to Orly where the family will take a train and Dany will drive their car back to the house and Dany once again agrees. But instead of taking the car back home, Dany decides to go on a little joyride and having some fun during the bank holiday long weekend. But her detour leads her to a strange town she’s never been in where people claim to have seen her just the day before. Soon, the weird evens multiple until eventually Dany is left driving around with a corpse, a shotgun and the possibility that she is going insane.
Thus is the setting of Joann Sfar’s psychological thriller, The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (La dame dans l’auto avec les lunettes et un fusil). Based on novel by Sebastien Japrisot, which had previously been adapted for the silver screen in 1970, the movie is supposed to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller about an isolated woman who finds herself further isolated by the strange events unfolding around her. I say “supposed to be” because it begins slowly, then suddenly hooks your curiosity, before becoming more of a chore to sit through than anything else. My perverted love for movie twists kept me curious, but when the twist is finally revealed it’s not at all worth the wait. The build up to the twist makes you think it’s going to be spectacular and jaw-dropping, but it ends up being fairly anti-climactic and disappointing.
Dany is an interesting character in that she’s likeable and easily gains the sympathy of the viewer, but she’s nothing more than a prop used for furthering the mediocre story. We never find out why it’s Dany specifically that all this happens to (which, one you know the twist, you’ll also wonder) and we know little to nothing about her despite spending nearly two hours with her alone. The only time Dany seems to come to life as a character is when she starts off on her joyride and later when she’s in the midst of her horror and meets a stranger with whom she has a brief affair. Otherwise, she ceases to be anything more than the lady in the car with glasses (because you don’t learn about the gun till much later) and when the twist is finally revealed, she becomes even less of an individual because her job—propelling the plot forward—is now complete. Being a conventionally beautiful woman, she is often a literal object being leered at by men, and though later on you find out why this objectification wasn’t without reason, there is a better way to have presented the situation without resorting to tired, sexist tropes.
The film overall it’s actually pretty beautiful to watch. I could just be biased because I’ve always had a soft spot for gingers of all genders, but Dany’s red hair and deeply freckled face couple with the dreamy colours and softness of what is meant to mimic modernist French films is really pretty to watch. It’s more a depiction of what we imagine old French films to look like, but it’s such a pretty look that I don’t really care if it’s inaccurate. I did wonder why the film was still set in the ‘70s since the time period is fairly irrelevant to the plot and it could very easily have been updated to modern day, but maybe that’s just an artistic choice I just don’t understand.
Overall, The Lady in the Car with the Glasses and a Gun is a movie you could take or leave. It might be worth it to watch because Scottish-born Freya Mavor is pretty spectacular as Dany and shows that she has the talent to pull of the bratty, insecure popular girl Mini as she did in the third generation of Skins as well as a seemingly hapless woman caught in a mystery beyond her that she handles with surprising class, maturity and quick-thinking. Mavor alone may be a great reason to see this movie, so long as you’re willing to ignore the casual misogyny sprinkled throughout and dissatisfying climax of the film.