Dir. LouiseArchambault. Can. 2005. 102mins.

Louise Archambault's cheerful debut may bebookended by some ambitious statements about the inevitability of geneticinheritance, but by the end has proved to be a light romp that is more than happyto settle for crowd-pleasing solutions.

If audience responseat Locarno, where Familia played last week, is any indication, then itshould go down well with family audiences, particularly among female memberssympathetic towards the two lead characters.

While Familianever amounts to more than a pleasant diversion, it will enjoy play atfestivals and have a decent theatrical career before reaching its ultimate andmost suitable home: on television.

Michele (Moreau), anaerobics instructor with a gambling addiction, is kicked out by her boyfrienddue to her debts. With her few belongings and adolescent daughter Marguerite(St-Sauveur) she heads for her sister in California and a fresh start - untilshe is told that she is not welcome.

Stranded, she stopsat the home of childhood friend Janine (Grenon), an interior decorator,frustrated wife and pedantic tyrant, whose strict disciplinary demands prompther kids prompt to call her "Hitler" behind her back. But eventuallyshe offers Michele a job and lodgings.

The loose,self-indulgent, wacky Michele breathes fresh air into the household and Janineeven begins to unwind a bit under her influence, while Janine's youngerdaughter Gabrielle (Gosselin) and Marguerite become fast friends.

But soon Michele islured back to gambling, where she loses the kind of money she can't afford.Marguerite tempts Gabrielle into the sort of conduct that no prim and prissymum would accept, forcing Janine to send her house guests away and forbid herown daughter from contacting them.

Soon Michele andJanine discover that they are not the exemplary parents they believe they are,unable to provide their offspring with the care and guidance they need.

But beforeArchambault can offer any constructive resolution, the picture provides acrowd-pleasing ending from out of nowhere that makes satisfied audiences forgethow it fails to link up with what has gone before.

Familia is a feature that wears a smile on its face - true,sometimes it's a bit twisted, but then it is retrieved by the inveterateoptimism of characters who believe that, one way or another, everything willturn out for the best.

Bathed in warm sunnysummer photography and neatly assembled, Archambault's good-humoured picture offamily life displays complex relationships that are confusing to the point thateven the script seems to give up.

The plot harbours asoft belly in the middle that needs tightening, although taking things easy isprobably more important given the film's overall ambience.

Issues like drugs,unwanted pregnancies, family troubles, dirty old men and, naively, duped youngwomen, are all there, but are carefully avoided before they begin to generateanything like painful involvement.

Sylvie Moreau'sacting is so hearty that it tends to go over the top once in a while, either inher persistence to ignore her irresponsibility or do anything about it. For herpart Macha Grenon offers a highly stylised but perfectly controlled portrait ofa typical Stepford Wife

Of the youngeractresses, Juliette Gosselin conveys the wide-eyed confusion and excitement ofthose first steps into adolescence.

Veteran MichelineLanctot has a field day in a cameo, offering an image of the older generationthat puts all the blame on genetics, advising that a mother's traits are transmittedto her daughter and that one's best attitude is to accept this fact of life.

The weakest links inthe chain are the male characters, who Archmabault evidently cares little for.Likeable or not, they are all wafer-thin, from grandma's libidinous friend whotries to pay his way into Michele's pants through Janine's deceitful husbanddown to the boys around Marguerite and Gabrielle. But then this is a women'spicture par excellence.

Production companies

International sales
Christal Films International

Luc Dery
Kim McCraw

Louise Archambault

Andre Turpin

Sophie Leblond

Ramachandra Borcar

Main cast
Sylvie Moreau
Macha Grenon
Mylene St-Sauveur
Juliette Gosselin
Micheline Lanctot
Calude Despins
Helene Florent
Jacques L'Heureux
Vincent Graton