My Donkey, My Lover & I isn’t just another girl power flick. While Caroline Vignal’s comedy treads familiar ground with its leading lady setting out to win her man and finding herself in the process, the story is quirky and unexpected, featuring a César-winning performance by Laure Calamy that rivals her more audacious and adorable stunts as assistant Noémie in Call My Agent! Also, the leading lady has a cute sidekick who’s determined to make her ditch the dude and develop some self-respect already. Who exactly is her self-help guru? A donkey named Patrick.
The film opens in an elementary school classroom. While the students cover their eyes, their teacher Antoinette (Calamy) sheds her clothes and changes into a slinky silver gown. Weird only gets weirder when the class performs a gooey love song for their parents, with Antoinette singing along so passionately that she drowns out the kids’ voices. In this cringey moment— less a class performance than a love letter to someone in the crowd—the parents look at each other with expressions ranging from confused, to mortified, to WTF?
No surprise, Antoinette is having an affair with the father of one of her students, Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe). Vladimir is there to hear his kid sing. His wife, conveniently, is not. After he and Antoinette make out in the classroom, high on the thrill of their public indiscretion, Vladimir cancels their long-planned romantic week together. His wife has booked a surprise family hiking trip in the Cévennes National Park.
While a more conventional woman might sulk or stomp her foot, lovely, loopy, possibly delusional Antoinette impulsively books herself the same trip, hoping no doubt to stumble into Vladimir’s arms along the way. The route she signs up for was made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1878 memoir Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, which documents a hiking trip he took while pining for his own married lover. Stevenson rented a donkey named Modestine to carry his belongings. Now, through Antoinette, fans can follow in his footsteps.
Antoinette shows up for her rigorous 6-day hike with a rolling suitcase, short-shorts, and cute wedge sandals. The film’s humor and pathos arise from Antoinette’s mishaps and, most of all, from her relationship with her ornery, four-legged companion. At first, Patrick refuses to walk, even as Antoinette pulls, pushes, and swears. Finally, she does what comes naturally: She talks to him—mainly about her love life. Pouring out her romantic history soothes Patrick and sets him strolling, while also entertaining the rest of us, giving us insight into who Antoinette is and why she now finds herself on this lonely and striking mountain range. As she develops a relationship with her donkey confidante, we find ourselves falling a little in love with both of them. Patrick is there for her, even when she’s irritating, even when she gets lost and has to spend the night in the woods, awaking like a downtrodden Snow White in a forest of woodland creatures.
Turns out this story of a silly girl chasing her prince into the woods is not about the prince at all—it’s about the journey. This funny, appealing film is also a love story between a woman and a donkey, who ends up being more deserving of her love than the piece of ass she followed into the wilderness to begin with.
My Donkey, My Lover & I hits screens on Friday, July 22.
Andrea Meyer has written creative treatments for commercial directors, a sex & the movies column for IFC, and a horror screenplay for MGM. Her first novel, Room for Love (St. Martin’s Press) is a romantic comedy based on an article she wrote for the New York Post, for which she pretended to look for a roommate as a ploy to meet men. A long-time film and entertainment journalist and former indieWIRE editor, Andrea has interviewed more actors and directors than she can remember. Her articles and essays have appeared in such publications as Elle, Glamour, Variety, Time Out NY, and the Boston Globe. 38