Fortunately My Worst Nightmare’s title doesn’t reflect its contents. The basic plot of the film is that Agathe Novic is a straight-laced and up-tight art dealer and mother. Her life’s pursuit is perfection in all things. That life of order and perfection is shaken to its core by the arrival of Patrick Demeuleu. Patrick manages to show her that throwing a little caution to the wind can not only be fun but the best part of life. This is a storyline we have seen done many times and to varying degrees of success. Just a few of such films are Along Came Polly, The Ugly Truth, Anger Management, and Forces of Nature. My Worst Nightmare is on the higher end of this type of movies’ scale. Patrick is hired to do some construction work on Agathe’s apartment that she lives in with her son and long time boyfriend François. Agathe and Patricks’ sons are school friends. Patrick is in danger of losing his son, Tony, to social services because he does not have a permanent address or regular income. Through a series of events Patrick becomes a live-in nanny, good friend to François and eventual lover to Agathe.
Keeping the film grounded in reality works greatly to its benefit. Films like Forces of Nature and Along Came Polly exist in a heightened reality that keeps the films from ever feeling genuine. There is a slight sense of the absurd in a few scenes of My Worst Nightmare. However it is the sense of the absurd that is often found in the European cinema. All the absurd moments occur around Patrick and he is a little bit of an absurd character so it isn’t too jaunting.
The transformation that Agathe undertakes throughout the film is a subtle one and many of her choices are driven by a maternal protection for Patrick’s son Tony. Agathe is the character that changes the most in the film but the one thing that remains constant is her devotion to her son Adrien and then later to Tony. Isabelle Huppert as Agathe had the most challenging role but to her credit she is believable as both the uptight art dealer and more laid back woman at the end of the film. This transformation is most obvious when you compare her reaction when François leaves her and when Patrick takes off after a fight. When François leaves she is completely calm and cool about it. When Patrick leaves she chases him down and convinces him to come back for Tony’s sake if not hers. Patrick brings out her passion in a way only someone like him could.
Patrick is the toughest character to get a read on. He loves his son and wants to keep him out of foster care but he seems incapable of not screwing up. He is one of those characters you want to grab by the lapels and shout, “just stop screwing up!” at him until you’re blue in the face. He needs Agathe to help him stay out of serious trouble the same way she needs him to help her keep from being too serious all the time.
The film in a lot of ways is about finding the right balance in life between caution and reckless abandon. Patrick’s entrance into their lives is the inciting incident that sets both Agathe and François free. The film never postulates that complete loss of control is the answer. Agathe never completely looses it and it is her ability to maintain control that keeps Patrick from loosing his son to Child Services. Patrick helps set François free himself from his loveless relationship by helping him leave Agathe for a beautiful young woman named Julie. If I had to sum up the movie in one phrase it would be: “everything within reason”. The problem with the film is you have to dig in pretty deep to find any depth there. Forgive the analogy but is a bit like Chinese food, there is little real substance to hang on to. I think the fact that neither of the main characters are very likable. While Agathe does make quite a change she is still pretty impenetrable and Patrick is just a screw-up, plain and simple.
Director Anne Fontaine does a competent job making the film but there isn’t any thing of real note in the filmmaking. One thing I liked was how she showed the difference in class between Agathe and Patrick. The best example of this is when Patrick comes to Agathe’s art show and clearly stands out from the bourgeois hipsters of Agathe’s world. There are no special features on the DVD, but the subtitles are clear and well paced. I liked My Worst Nightmare but there isn’t a lot of substance to it.