“My Donkey, My Lover & I” is yet another story about a woman who ventures out into the wild and finds herself. But to the writer and director Caroline Vignal’s credit, this low-key romantic French comedy proves friskier and more idiosyncratic than its reliance on this trope of feminist empowerment would suggest.
For one, there’s a donkey who is a kind of life coach, bellowing every time one particularly toxic man comes near.
Laure Calamy, from the series “Call My Agent!,” plays Antoinette, a foolhardy and hopelessly romantic schoolteacher, whom we first see leading her students in a strangely committed group performance. They’re singing a love ballad, and, unbeknown to the kids and (most of) the audience members, the number doubles as a secret serenade to Antoinette’s lover, Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe), the married father of one of her pupils.
Too bad Vlad the family man has to cancel the lovers’ retreat they had planned when his wife supposedly drags him on a weeklong hike through the Cévennes National Park. Antoinette responds by chasing after him, booking the same arduous trek in the hope of “stumbling” into her man — no matter her inexperience at hiking or her preference for heels.
Like Vladimir, Antoinette rents a donkey, Patrick, whose name you won’t forget — our heroine screams it about a hundred times. Though Patrick initially refuses to walk, he turns out to be an excellent listener and judge of character.
Delusionally ga-ga, but also girlishly naïve and sympathetic thanks to Calamy’s grounded performance, Antoinette encounters various kinds of people on her journey — angry moralizers, hiking know-it-alls, bored checkpoint employees who encourage her folly — and she eventually does manage an actual roll in the hay with Vlad.
The film — and its blindly determined heroine — has more in common with “Legally Blonde” than it does with something like “Wild,” though its bright, beautifully craggy scenery and meandering rhythm creates an overall more chilled-out tone. Despite Vignal’s intentions, the drama feels less effective as a result — as do the bouts of physical comedy. No matter, sometimes simply pleasant journeys have their charms.
My Donkey, My Lover & I
Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. In theaters.