June 6, 2014 at 1:00 am

Review: 'Chinese Puzzle' shows friends and lovers at 40, served up French-style

Audrey Tatou and Romain Duris star in a comedy about a writer who moves from Paris to New York to be near his kids in 'Chinese Puzzle.' (Opposite Field Pictures)

Flighty yet appealing, “Chinese Puzzle” sets old friends and lovers in their early 40s, still grappling with life as if they were teenagers.

This is the third film writer-director Cedric Klapisch has made with this group, following “L’Auberge Espagnole” (2002) and “Russian Dolls” (2005), but he’s not offering up any heavy revelations, just running attractive characters through a maze of complications.

Standing center is Xavier (Romain Duris), a writer forced to move to New York from Paris when his British wife Wendy (Kelly Reilly) moves in with a man there, taking their kids along. Wendy’s departure was at least partly inspired by Xavier’s agreeing to donate sperm to his lesbian best buddy, Isabelle (Cecile De France), so she could become pregnant.

Conveniently, Isabelle has also moved to New York to be with her partner, Ju (Sandrine Holt), so Xavier has a place to stay. Soon enough he’s having immigration problems — he wants to stay but he’s on a tourist visa — finding his own place, getting a barely developed job as a bike messenger, fighting with Wendy over the kids’ school and talking to Hegel while sitting side-by-side on a mattress.

That’s right, Klapisch playfully inserts historic figures into the screenplay as hallucinations. He also has fun with animation, dropping unexpected visual tricks in with no warning. Both devices help keep things light and giddy, and this is a movie that embraces light and giddy.

Further complications arise when an old friend and former lover, Martine (Audrey Tautou) flies over on a business trip, helping to kick the film into full romantic comedy mode.

Toss in some lighthearted infidelity and you’ve got all the elements for an amiably daffy look at perpetual adolescence, French-style.

‘Chinese Puzzle’

GRADE: B-
Rated R for sexual content, nudity and language
Running time: 117 minutes

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