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Midlife-crisis rom-com "Hello" a nonstarter

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The considerable star power of Fanny Ardant and Gerard Depardieu isn’t enough to generate steam, laughs or much of anything in this tepid romantic comedy about a Parisian couple’s move to Israel.

Attempting to put a comic spin on matters of middle-age angst, French ennui and Jewish identity, director Graham Guit has tossed together a collection of eye-roll-inducing sitcom moments that fall several items short of a satisfying combination plate. “Hello Goodbye,” which screens April 22 in Los Angeles’ City of Lights, City of Angels Film Festival, will have limited appeal in international markets, even with its marquee names.

In their latest onscreen pairing, the topliners of “The Woman Next Door” and “Colonel Chabert” play a gynecologist and his wife. Friday night Sabbath dinner at a colleague’s home stirs up gallows humor in Alain (Depardieu), a secular Jew, but something deeper in Gisele (Ardant), who converted when they were married. In the grip of empty-nest syndrome since their son’s wedding, she decides that only a trip to Israel will inject meaning and renewal into their bourgeois lives. After a holiday there, which reignites passions and includes scouting trips for real estate, they pack up their apartment and move.

The ostensibly hilarious and touching catastrophes that befall the central duo alternate between dull and implausible. While Gisele takes to their new home with Stars of David in her eyes -- and falls for a young rabbi -- the reluctant Alain’s good humor crumbles bit by bit. Rather than building toward a revelatory crescendo of marital or individual reinvention, the disjointed proceedings wrap in predictably sappy fashion.

Ardant’s role, though the linchpin of the story, is thinly conceived, and notwithstanding the actress’s calm presence and beauty, she comes across as simple-minded and impulsive rather than adventurous. Depardieu, once a charismatic bad boy, has come to excel at embodying midlife stasis. With his doleful expression and hesitant body language, he provides the rare moments when the film deepens into something non-cartoonish.

But by the time Alain submits himself, at his wife’s behest, to the mohel’s knife -- yes, that would be for a circumcision -- all one can say is “oy.”

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