It pretty much goes without saying but life is a messy, often unpredictable business.
While he Tony Robbins and Martha Stewarts of the world would have you believe that the chaotic business of living can be corralled and civilised, the average person knows that it’s not quite that simple.
Exhibit A in this group, which takes in every human being on the planet with even a gram of self awareness, is Victoria (Virginie Efira), a lawyer and single mother of two, whose apartment, dishevelled to the core, is emblematic of her life as a whole.
As the film opens, the full speed ahead workaholic, who freely admits she is not very good at slowing down or being reflective, is bidding farewell to another au pair, a young man who has had enough of being taken for granted.
Aware of how much his departure will imperil her ability to put the professional pedal to the metal, she initially tries to talk him into staying but when it becomes evident he has no intention of being cajoled, she dismissively lets him go, one of her ever present cigarettes burning down to oblivion in her fingers.
Refreshingly, director and screenwriter Justine Triet has chosen, perhaps all too aware of the difficulties that confront women when they must balance professional and personal lives – men, of course, are rarely held to the same standards, something that becomes patently clear as Victoria’s ex, David (Laurent Poitrenaux), a writer who has appropriate her life wholesale for his blog-based fiction, waltzes merrily in and out of her life – to not present her protagonist as some sort of hapless ditz.
Rather, Victoria is every woman, every person who has tried to have it all and found that life is rarely that accommodating, despite all the self help books and inspirational speakers to the contrary.
Sure the accomplished lawyer can’t get through most nights without a Xanax or two, and finds sex a crushing bore and a trigger for all manner of overwhelming emotional reactions – even so she keeps asking men around that she meets online in the hope one of them will spark something, anything in her comatose libido – but she no less and no more damaged than any of us, and Triet paints her in an understanding, sympathetic light at all times.
So well-rounded is Victoria and so relatable that you can well understand how she manages to get herself into some less than optimal situations, at one point in serious professional trouble because she agrees, against her better judgement to defend her flaky friend Vincent (Melvil Poupaud) from some fairly serious charges levied by his girlfriend Eve (Alice Daquet), and unable to see that the man of her dreams, Sam (Vincent Lacoste) has been right in front of her all along.
While we can see that Sam, a reformed drug dealer that is now studying law and eager for Victoria’s professional mentoring as much as her love, is the right guy for her, Triet lets their relationship play out exactly as it would in real life.
In other words, the trajectory of their relationship reflects, with humour and some serious introspection, how we often don’t appreciate what or who is good for us even though it’s right under our noses.
Anyone looking on can see the best course of action but enmeshed in our lives, and without the perspective of the objective outsider, we often miss the obvious, either failing to grasp it all or only arriving at the realisation that x or y is good for us way down the track.
It’s the price of being human, and not possessed of god like vantage points, and Efira plays Victoria’s flawed humanity to perfection, making it clear in ways that anyone can relate to, how she keeps making mistake after mistake.
We all do it, we all wish we wouldn’t, yearning for the ability to discern instantly the best steps forward in any given situation, but it happens and Triet lets Victoria, not so much off the hook since she pays for her mistakes, recover and pivot, much as anyone of us when life goes self-directedly pear-shaped.
The only real flaw with In Bed With Victoria, which neatly balances quirky humour, grim reality and the vagaries of living, is the way the narrative, perhaps reflecting Victoria’s messes-up life, never quite cohesively comes together.
It’s not a fractured storyline by any measure, with events preceding from A to Z much as you’d expect them to – this is a romantic comedy with a great deal of real world harshness thrown in – but it’s doesn’t quite coalesce as you might expect.
The relationship between Victoria and Sam too doesn’t quite make sense either.
Yes they need something in each other and there is an undeniable attraction of some kind, most palpably from Sam’s side of the equation, but it never really clicks in any meaningful way, meaning that the final scene doesn’t resonate quite as much as it should have.
It’s still possessed of a pleasing, real world sensibility, conveying with nuance and goofy humour (witness the dog psychologist and chimpanzee in action), and it’s impossible not like and empathise with Victoria who isn’t a train wreck, just human.
But In Bed With Victoria never completely fires on all cylinders, much like Victoria’s life itself, and so while you are can identify with her and are happy when things begin to turn around for her, you’re also silently relieved that maybe your life isn’t as messed up as hers.
Of course it is, but as Triet intimates through the film, that’s just another lie we tell ourselves to get through the day, and we are no better or worse off than our fellow travellers in life when we do so.