A tale with no central plot doesn’t sound like it would be satisfying. Audiences typically want characters they can relate to and who change over the course of the story. Yet here’s Change of Plans defying convention and delivering a unique film experience that’s intriguing, fun to watch and doesn’t cave under the pressure to wrap up neatly.
ML (Karin Viard) and her husband Piotr (Dany Boon) are hosting a dinner party on the evening of a street music festival. Unfortunately, their guest list keeps shifting with eleventh hour cancelations and impromptu additions and last minute reconfirmations that leave the couple with a full house and a cramped dinner table. Each guest harbors a secret regarding another guest and their lives are forever changed because of it as the story reveals their futures exactly one year after this fateful night.
There will be a moment within the first fifteen minutes of the film when audiences will feel overwhelmed with information. Not only are viewers assaulted with a large cast of principal actors, but viewers must also keep track of their relationships with one another. It also doesn’t help that non-French speakers will have their attention drawn down to the subtitles, further hampering any connection with the characters. It’s best to just surrender to the confusion. Writer and director Danièle Thompson does such a wonderful job introducing the characters that it’s enough to get meaty impressions that audiences can hang on to even if names don’t stick right away. Furthermore, the characters are dissimilar enough that viewers will be on the right page once the dinner party is assembled at the table.
Considering how rife with deceit this group is, it’s particularly delicious to be a fly on the wall, learning each of their secrets. Seeing ML squirm as her lover Jean-Louis (Laurent Stocker) utters double entendres will elicit smiles and watching Erwann (Patrick Chesnais) listen to Henri (Pierre Arditi) talk about his daughter Juliette (Marina Hands) so candidly will have audiences cringing as they wait for Erwann to betray the fact that he’s sleeping with Henri’s daughter. It’s not unlike a murder mystery and viewers will enjoy picking up clues.
Further adding to the intrigue is the wise choice to present the story via two points on the same timeline separated by a year. As the perspective constantly shifts between the two years it only helps to make audiences that much more curious as they wonder why Mélanie (Marina Foïs) is in a wheelchair when she could walk fine a year before or why Alain (Patrick Bruel) seems to have a closer relationship with Manuela (Bianca Li) than either let on at the first dinner. The convention is highly effective, but doesn’t feel gimmicky.
Despite all of the lies and half-truths floating around this group, it’s refreshing to see that not all of the deceit is harmful. In fact, a few of the stories are quite uplifting. Characters commit the greatest crimes against other characters, but somehow learn from their actions and redeem themselves. So while these characters can sometimes be despicable people, audiences won’t leave the theater hating all of them.
The resolution of Change of Plans may put off a few viewers. The future for these characters is left uncertain. By the second dinner, several of the characters will discover life-changing revelations and the filmmakers chose not to share how they deal with them or what becomes of the characters. Most disappointing is Mélanie’s predicament, especially since the film hints at a very obvious explanation, but never confirms it. Audiences are given a glimpse into these people’s lives and then are asked to leave. Somehow this uncertainty brings these characters to life in ways that traditional endings can’t.