Written by: Hannah Tran | July 21st, 2022
My Donkey, My Lover & I (Caroline Vignal, 2022) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Caroline Vignal’s My Donkey, My Lover & I feels as if French characters stepped into an American rom-com. There is an odd clash between comedy and misery within the story about Antoinette, a schoolteacher who decides to follow her married lover on his family vacation, which turns out to be a trek across the countryside à la Robert Louis Stevenson’s travel journals. Like Stevenson, Antoinette is paired with a donkey that she must form a bond with while also experiencing the emotional highs and lows that come with traveling alongside her lover’s family.
Despite the thematic trappings of infidelity and guilt, My Donkey, My Lover & I is a surprisingly light and breezy comedy with a handful of genuinely heartwarming moments. The relationship between Antoinette and the donkey, Patrick, is the source of most of these, with much credit belonging to the stunningly emotional performances of the animal actors who fill this latter role. Even with its constant exploration of disappointment and heartbreak, this film often maintains a feel-good energy that’s bolstered by the beauty and comedy found in the natural landscape Antoinette travels through.
In the role of Antoinette, Laure Calamy (Only the Animals) captures a mix of youthful exuberance and pathetic immaturity. While she is often interesting to watch, her character is only made to be sympathetic when she is pitiable. Part of the problem is that she is an emotionally turbulent character who makes selfish choices with little self-awareness. She often puts herself in volatile situations and is surprised when she faces negative consequences, and this quality is passed off as being part of her quirk. While her childish obsession with this man is often irritating and difficult to understand, it would be forgivable if her character eventually had to reckon with it. But while she doesn’t get exactly what she wants, she also never has the moment of clarity that might demonstrate her growth throughout the story. In the end, she’s a little sad and a bit better at hiking, but she still believes she is the victim in a situation where she was often not, and, unfortunately, she still finds much of her solace in the company of men.
This makes for a highly unsatisfying final act and conclusion. Much like Antoinette, My Donkey, My Lover & I is kind of all over the place. Its tantalizing premise quickly fizzles because of the confused tone and characters. The only thing that ties it together is a consistent sense of the leisurely pace of Antoinette’s story. This film is less interested in moral suspense than it is in creating a compelling character within a casually entertaining story that one can enjoy on a lazy afternoon. While it certainly isn’t a bad choice for such an occasion, the human characters are not its selling point.
The effect is sweet and slight. On its surface, My Donkey, My Lover & I compensates for its weak characters and so-so writing with a hopeful outlook and enjoyable images of nature. It may not be anything new, but the tender relationship between Antoinette and Patrick is heartwarming enough to be worth its short runtime.