Both films also follow Isabelle's love life. In L'Auberge Espagnole, her girlfriend is introduced briefly as well as the relationship she begins to develop with her flamenco teacher. After her teacher hits on her, she tells Xavier: â€œShe was so gorgeous, a shiver went up my spine. So intense!â€ As she tells the story, the film cuts to the two women dancing closely before they begin to kiss.
Although Isabelle starts the relationship with her teacher while having a girlfriend in Belgium, Isabelle is not portrayed as any more promiscuous or less devoted than the heterosexual characters, many of whom find it difficult to remain faithful to the relationships they left back home. Some of the romantic entanglements take on an element of farce, especially when combined with â€œgayâ€ pranks.
Wendy (Kelly Reilly), a student from England , cheats on her boyfriend, Alistair (Iddo Goldberg), with an American she meets in Spain. When the roommates discover Alistair has made an unplanned visit to Barcelona to surprise Wendy, they all rush home to keep him from finding Wendy and her lover. Wendy's brother, William (Kevin Bishop), who is staying in the apartment for two weeks while on vacation, pretends to be gay so that Alistair catches him in bed with the American instead of with Wendy, who hides under the bed.
It is clear that William is not happy to have Wendy's boyfriend think he is gay, but he is willing to pretend he is in order to cover for his sister. Alistair also appears uncomfortable with and surprised by this news, but he accepts it and insists that William does not need to explain anything to him.
Russian Dolls also puts characters outside of the roles typically assigned to their genders and sexualities to create and resolve humorous situations. Five years have passed since L'Auberge Espagnole, and the roommates reunite in St. Petersburg for William's wedding to a Russian ballet dancer. Isabelle now lives in Paris; she and Xavier are still close friends; and he moves in with her for a while when he needs a place to stay
At first, the film appears to take a predictable and stereotypical path to achieving a few easy laughs when, for reasons that remain unexplained, Xavier's grandfather thinks he has a fiancÃ©e and no one except Isabelle is available to be put in a flowery dress and paraded in front of the grandfather as the fictional fiancÃ©e.
Isabelle is uncomfortable in the dress and trips in her high heels, but relaxes when discussing her job as a financial journalist. She is soon sitting in a distinctly unfeminine fashion â€” especially for a woman wearing a dress, with her legs open and her elbows propped on top of them. Xavier is irritated with Isabelle's behavior and tries to get her to act more traditionally feminine, but when they leave, an upset Isabelle tells him that the woman he wants does not exist and that she will decide what they do for the rest of the night. Isabelle's idea of revenge is to invite several of her lesbian friends over, force Xavier to wear the same flowery dress, and put makeup on him. Lesbian couples are seen kissing in the background as Isabelle leads Xavier around the room, introducing him to everyone as â€œmy wife.â€
At the beginning of Russian Dolls, Isabelle has a girlfriend, but her girlfriend feels neglected and angry when Isabelle agrees to let Xavier move in without asking her first. They break up early in the film, and Isabelle begins seeing another woman who appears periodically throughout Russian Dolls. At one point, one of Isabelle's dates ends up punching Xavier in the face after he has an argument with Isabelle.
Although Isabelle is not the major character in either of the films, her character has substance and strength and a life outside of any struggles with her sexuality. She is a student in the first film and a successful financial journalist in the sequel who struggles with finding love and establishing a career in the same ways the other characters do.
Both films, especially L'Auberge Espagnole, are funny and entertaining while revealing the essential and underlying similarities we all share, regardless of sexual orientation or nationality. Characters come together as friends and lovers in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and across nationalities. Both films are about forging a personal path through life and through love, and they both include a confident and competent lesbian character to illustrate one of the many legitimate paths a life can take.