On Air contrived, but ultimately worthwhile

21:23, Feb 24 2013
On Air
FRESH SLANT: As always Karin Viard is watchable in French comedy drama On Air.

ON AIR (M) (87 min) 

Directed by Pierre Pinaud. Featuring Karin Viard, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Nadia Barentin.

In modern-day Paris, a 40-something Karin Viard (Polisse) is a wildly successful and popular late-night radio talkshow host. Every night, she dispenses unusually honest and idiosyncratic advice to the bereaved, the heartbroken, the love-lorn, and the just plain deranged. She inspires intense loyalty among her fans. 

But Viard's Claire Martin has, and keeps, her own secrets. Her audience are never allowed too close to Martin. There are no photographs of her, and no-one but her producers know her real identity. And behind this facade, Martin has a secret to protect: She was adopted as a child, and is now hunting for her birth parents.

All of which adds up to an outrageous contrivance. Even in a country with laws designed to thwart the paparazzi, it's impossible to believe that a major French media personality could - or would even try to - maintain anonymity. 

A zoom lens or 10 minutes on Google will turn you up a shot of anyone these days, and the idea of the faceless voice behind the microphone was a bit ludicrous even when Oliver Stone was making Talk Radio in 1988.

But, contrivance aside, On Air does add up to something occasionally very good indeed. That Martin should find at least some of her family, that there should be major cultural clashes, and that everything should resolve itself with much comedy and tears is pretty much a given. 

Adoption dramas are like that, and anything less would leave us feeling short-changed. But On Air at least has a few fresh things to say, and few new ways into the expected story. Viard is endlessly watchable, even while her character strains credulity. 

On Air eschews the mawkish excesses an American take on the same material would have yielded, and finds some well-won big moments among the melodrama. Recommended.


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