Some of the national stereotypes that animate Cédric Klapisch’s amiable but ultimately disappointing L’Auberge Espagnole are familiar—Germans are meticulous, the English either prim or loutish—but the one that sets the plot in motion may come as a surprise: The French are regimented and repressed, and need some Iberian sun to melt their cultural shackles. Liberation is not what uptight Xavier (Romain Duris) is seeking when he decides to spend a year in Barcelona; he’s just following the advice of his father’s friend, who counsels him to learn about Spain’s economy to guarantee himself a job at a stifling bureaucratic megaplex on the Seine. So Xavier heads south, leaving behind disconsolate girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou in a bit part). In Barcelona, he meets an annoying French neurologist and the doc’s new bride, timid Anne Sophie (Judith Godrèche). Then the cast of characters expands dramatically, as Xavier moves into an apartment occupied by representatives of most of the major EU nations. They’re all grad students, but few of them are focused on academics. After an episode in which Xavier and his new Belgian pal, Isabelle (Cécile de France), struggle with a professor who insists on lecturing in Catalan, the focus shifts definitively to l’amour. Xavier seems a little too shocked to learn that Isabelle is a lesbian, but he’s soon asking her advice in his seduction of Anne Sophie. Structurally, Klapisch’s latest film resembles his delightful When the Cat’s Away, a 1996 ensemble comedy that celebrated the semi-gentrified Bastille neighborhood. Despite its digital-video images and jumpy edits, however, the new film is the more conventional. While hitting Barcelona’s major landmarks, the writer-director fails to evoke a strong sense of place, and he doesn’t let most of the players establish themselves as anything more than the Dane or the Italian. For a movie whose minor characters include the “dumb American,” L’Auberge Espagnole is rather Hollywoodish: The performers (especially the women who buzz around Xavier) are improbably attractive, the gay jokes decidedly unsophisticated. Klapisch hits his stride with the culminating Barcelona sequence, in which the roomies all rush into action to prevent their English roommate’s boyfriend from catching her in bed with another man. More of this spirit of solidarity would have benefited the film, which spends too much of its time narcissistically regarding the stereotypically smug French guy.

—Mark Jenkins