In the past year, Caroline (Fanny Ardant) has lost her best friend to breast cancer, quit her job as a successful dentist, and fallen into a depression. Hoping to help their mother find a new purpose in life, Caroline’s daughters buy her a trial package to Bright Days Ahead, a local senior’s educational center. She finally agrees to give it a try and finds herself attracted to a much younger computer teacher Julien (Laurent Lafitte), and despite the age difference, the attraction is mutual. They start an affair, using extra classes at Bright Days Ahead as Caroline’s cover, and they spend their afternoons together smoking weed, eating cookies in bed, and having sex. When people around town start to notice the affair, Caroline has to make a choice between the womanizing Julien and her devoted husband Philippe (Patrick Chesnais).
Bright Days Ahead is a fairly straight-forward older woman/younger man love affair, but its greatest advantage is the setting. The senior center is ripe with possibilities, whether it be an awkward acting exercise in drama class or Caroline’s classmates struggling with the wheel in pottery class. There is the joy of discovering a new talent or the frustration in failing to grasp new technology in Caroline’s computer class. This is a great setting for this kind of story to play out, and I wish more time had been spent at the center.
Similarly, I thought Caroline’s supporting cast of characters at the Bright Days Ahead center had a lot of promise, and they could have been much better with more screen time. Considering that Caroline’s depression was spurred by her best friend’s death, I hoped that more of the story would be focused on that relationship and the difficulties of forming new friendships later in life. There are not enough films that focus on an older female protagonist and her friendships, despite the fact that these films are often very successful.
Since the film focuses its attention on Caroline’s affair, the question is whether their relationship is interesting to watch play out on screen. Unfortunately, Bright Days Ahead spends so much time with Julien, and somehow, very little is ever revealed about him. He is more of an idea than an actual character. He gives Caroline permission to let go of her inhibitions. While Philippe is encouraging Caroline to volunteer her time and dentistry skills to the disadvantaged, Julien doesn’t expect anything from her. When Caroline and Julien go out to lunch for the first time, she confesses to him that she doesn’t want to get involved in charities or give her time or money. Instead, she wants to drink wine and enjoy herself, free of responsibility or cares. He responds by taking her out to the beach and fooling around in his car. To Caroline, Julien represents carefree youth, a chance to escape her life and recapture her own youth.
Philippe doesn’t fare much better as a three-dimensional character. While Julien woos Caroline with sex, weed, and cookies, Philippe spends most of his screen time telling her how to live her life. He pushes her to go to class when she says she doesn’t want to go. He invites the founder of a prominent charity over for dinner with the sole purpose of pressuring Caroline into a dentistry role. He scolds her when she brings home pizza for the aforementioned dinner party. He is a character that might as well be named "Responsibility." Of course she would be drawn to a man like Julien.
If Julien and Philippe would have been written as full characters, I probably would have felt more positive about Bright Days Ahead. The setting and premise has so much promise, but the central love triangle is underwritten and the supporting characters have too little screen time to give it a strong recommendation.