Set in a romanticized Paris where nobody smokes, there is no dog doo on the sidewalks, and famous landmarks are devoid of obnoxious tourists, Amélie is nevertheless a delightful modern-day riff on Jane Austen's Emma, wherein the optimistic daughter (Audrey Tautou) of an eccentric widower takes it upon herself to better the lives of those around her, even while denying herself the romantic happiness that's just beyond her reach. But you can bet she'll eventually get her man, too.
Director Jeunet is best remembered as half of the team behind the surreal French crowd-pleasers Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. After splitting with his filmmaking partner Marc Caro, he stumbled in Hollywood with Alien Resurrection but is back on track on his home turf, and if we no longer get to revel in Caro's inspired set designs or the fantastical visions of the earlier films, Jeunet's madcap camerawork, daft humor and watery, saturated colors are alive and well in Amélie. (You'd think all Paris was tinted a rich green-gold instead of its normal blah gray.) And it's got a far stronger story than Lost Children had, with lots of imaginative twists and tangents.
Though I didn't find it gooey, Amélie is probably not for those who prefer to feel cynical at the movies. I watched it in a packed theatre and everybody had such a positive vibe that I was reminded that a good audience can affect the way you watch a film. I might have found this film cloying if it was just me, a VCR, and a bad day. Either way, it's the best tourist brochure the city of Paris could have asked for.