Call it a very French version of “The Wedding Banquet.” Jean-Jacques Zilbermann’s “Man Is a Woman” is a romantic comedy about marriage, sexuality and subculture, drawing on the idea that there are four people involved in any marriage: man, woman, the woman in the man, the man in the woman. Whatever that means, the film is gently funny, warmly insightful and very French.
Simon (de Caunes) is a good Jewish boy who happens to be gay. He’s also a gifted musician, cynical about ever finding his niche … or true love. When his uncle (Aumont) offers him cash if he marries and continues the family line, his mother (Magre) thinks it isn’t a bad idea and sets him up with Rosalie (Zylberstein), a nice Yiddish girl who lives an extremely kosher life and is obsessed with protecting her singing voice. As Simon and Rosalie head toward the wedding day, Simon is surprised to find that he’s actually fallen in love.
The film avoids wacky slapstick for a more relaxed type of humour that comes from the characters and situations … although it sometimes skates on thin ice between laughing with the Jewish subculture and laughing at it. The performances are very good, especially de Caunes, who gives Simon an authenticity and honesty that makes us like him even as he mopes around. On the other hand, the storyline is a bit fragmented, lurching around and making it hard for us to connect with what’s happening. And for a comedy, the film deals with some intensely serious themes and emotions. In fact, by the end it abandons comedy altogether for more serious drama.