The grinding noises you hear are the gears of this labored French comedy straining to keep a ridiculously convoluted narrative moving along. Twenty-three-year old Thomas (Stanislas Merhar) is the privileged only child of one of Paris' leading opera divas, Elisabeth Beaumont (Dianne Weist). Unbeknownst to his high-strung mother, Thomas is gay and has a penchant for answering "Men Seeking Men" newspaper ads. One such personal requires him to visit an older gentleman's apartment late at night and watch a sexual encounter from the bedroom closet. Instead, Thomas winds up witnessing a murder. Shaken, the young man returns home and is greeted by his teary-eyed mom, who has a big secret to reveal. After years of telling Thomas that his father died when he was 4, Elisabeth has decided to admit that her former husband was actually alive and well until the other night. The police just called to inform her that he was found dead in his apartment, the victim of foul play. Putting two and two together, Thomas realizes that he witnessed the murder of his long-lost dad. Understandably distraught, he runs out of the house and wanders the streets aimlessly until he happens to pass the office of renowned psychiatrist Dr. Rey. At that very moment, neurotic actress Penelope (Jane Birkin) is pouring her heart out to the good doctor; angry that Dr. Rey seems distracted, Penelope gets up to leave and then notices that her shrink doesn't appear to be breathing. Before she can leave, Thomas barges into the office and demands to see Dr. Rey. At first Penelope plays along, pretending to be the psychiatrist, but when she hears Thomas' tale she recognizes a fellow screwed-up soul and drops the act. The two become fast friends as Penelope helps Thomas deal with the overbearing Elisabeth and find the man who killed his father. Written and directed by James Ivory's protege, Andrew Litvack, the film is handsomely mounted. However, its comic intentions fall dismally flat; Litvack's storytelling is so slack in the first half hour that it's almost impossible not to tune out before things finally kick into gear. Litvack aims for the anything-goes attitude of such freewheeling '60s comedies as THE KNACK (1965) and STOLEN KISSES (1968), but demonstrates neither Richard Lester's inventive visual imagination nor Francois Truffaut's way with actors. Only Weist, who is clearly doing a riff on her Oscar-winning role in BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994), manages to shape a real comic character out of this otherwise overly frenetic mishmash.