Going in here, I’m a little fearful. I loved L’auberge espagnole and I come into every sequel expecting the worst. Plus it’s only been a few days since I watched the predecessor to this, so all it’s joy and energy is still fresh in my mind. Will this recapture that joy or throw it away. Filmed 3 years later, but now depicting Xavier (Romain Duris) at nearly 30. He’s chasing his dream of being a writer, realising his foley of a career in finance at the end of the last film. Stylistically I’m pleased to say we’re in a similar place. Cut with pace and humour, but clearly with a bigger budget and better kit. The same diverse European cast are all here too, but a lot are used sparingly which is a shame. First Xavier takes us back to France, explaining that his career isn’t quite going to plan. His grand ideas and ideals corrupted by publicists and producers wanting him to be more obvious, with broader appeal or to, shudder... ghostwrite. Forced out of his apartment, he moves in with Isabelle (Cécile de France), who sleeps with as many women as him and then is comically enlisted to play Xavier’s fiancé, to fool and appease Xavier’s ageing grandfather who’s desperate to see him settle down. That’s really the essence of this film. Xavier settling down, or rather his inability to. Obviously his love life isn’t fairing much better than his career. Still friends with Martine (Audrey Tautou), it seems that Xavier and Martine should be together, but like one of Xavier’s stories, maybe that’s too obvious. Instead a string of one night stands leave him feeling untethered and incapable of forming anything that lasts.It all feels a bit like a by the numbers romcom and I’d almost forgotten the whole melting pot joy of the first film. Until an hour in when William (Kevin Bishop) arrives in town with a laddish “Bonjour Paris!” If the first half of this film feels like a bit of a slow slog, the second half is more of a confused and disjointed rollercoaster. We get William’s love story with a Russian ballet dancer intermingled with Xavier’s increasingly complex love life. Xavier is offered the chance to rewrite one of his soppy screenplays in English for the BBC and with the help of Wendy (Kelly Reilly) finds himself in London. Where they inevitably fall in love. That would be fine, I like Wendy it makes sense, but things get choppy as our lead is called back to Paris to ghostwrite the memoirs of a 24 year old model and finds himself torn between the two women. Xavier seems very good at starting things, life falling into his lap, but seems destined to never truly find his home, soul mate or calling. It’s quite sad to watch him fuck things up. Where the carefree life was endearing in the first film, here with the expected responsibilities of getting older, it begins to grate. That doesn’t make this a worse film, but it’s different. More downbeat, less joyful. Eventually we get the full cast back together as they all reunite for William’s wedding and Xavier finally gets his act together. It’s not as good as L’auberge espagnole, but Russian Dolls isn’t a bad film. It just had a lot to live up to and the chemistry falls a little short. That said, I’m really intrigued to see where Xavier and friends will finish up in the final outing ‘Chinese Puzzle’.