Directed by Julie Delpy
Written by Julie Delpy
A perfect image of how little I know about French cinema – Julie Delpy is a name I had not heard before seeing this. The lady who served me told me how great she is, and boy did I feel like a moron! After a little searching, I found out that she directed 2 Days in Paris and 2 Days In New York, which I have read about and now definitely want to see, as this romantic comedy is far from conventional.
One of the first things noticeable (after the surreal, animated opening credits) is, as Violette and her friend Ariane gossip, is that the French, or perhaps Europe as a whole, are far more comfortable talking about sex. It seems taboo in the Western world, so much so that jokes involving sex are often seen as vulgar and in poor taste (Trainwreck anyone?). The opposite is the case in this hilarious and simple film, where sex and genitalia are discussed casually, and often! We soon learn through the gossiping that Violette is experiencing somewhat of a dry patch when it comes to the other sex, and that perhaps she should buy a cat. Again, the language they use is provocative but not offensive – the crowd I saw this with was almost entirely made up of people at least 30 years older than me, and they were laughing at the same jokes I was. I love this subversive nature of French comedy, and the French romantic comedy is fast becoming a favourite genre of mine.
As the girls are talking, two men walk towards them, and they invite them over as one of the girls knows them. “They are both single” she says quietly when they are out of earshot. They try to introduce everyone, that is until Jene-René literally drops a giant tuna fish in Violette’s lap. Not the most conventional pick-up line, but Jene-René is single and divorced, Violette is getting desperate, so she organises to meet later with Violette, though as he leaves, her girlfriends have fun teasing his not-so-great features.
Playing Jean-René is Danny Boon, appearing in another comedic role, as at last year’s festival he was the eccentric lead in another very funny French film, Superchondriac. Here he plays a socially awkward man in the IT business, but despite a lack of initial attraction between the him and Violette, they meet at a party and of course a one night stand turns into something more. That might sound a little typical, but we must factor in Jene-René’s amusingly awkward social skills, which make almost every night they go out a memorable one.
The first act of the film is easily the funniest, as the women’s gossip is both very frank and very funny. Violette doesn’t seem happy until her relationship with Jean-René becomes stronger, despite Jean’s often inarticulate behaviour. His social awkwardness doesn’t help when he tries to get along with Violette’s son Lolo, who it seems does not want Jean in his life at all. Every attempt Jean-René makes to bond with him falls flat on its face and breaking its nose in seven different places.
Lolo is the 19 year old son of Violette’s past marriage, and it seems obvious from the start that his intentions aren’t pure. He acts nice to save face, but in reality he is insulting Jean behind his back and laughing at him – and it does not stop there. The way Vincent Lacoste plays Lolo is masterful; his off-beat, cryptic smile (see below!) is very hard to read, and almost creepy. One thing is obvious though – Lolo is not a big fan of his mother’s new boyfriend.
The film also subtly demonstrates in its own unique way how some mothers’ love for their offspring can cause lapses in judgement; Lolo means everything to Violette, an ex-wife and single parent who has spent a long time alone with her son. Needless to say, this makes it difficult for Jean-René to fit in without intruding.
Lolo is an extremely interesting character, as it is almost always hard to judge what his beliefs and morals are, not to mention what the hell he might do next. More importantly though, why does he give Jean-René (or Lolo’s new nickname, ‘J.R.’) such a hard time? Perhaps it is because he is 19, that age where a mother should probably think of having her kids move out and get a job, whereas Lolo does not have a job and is a painter of arguably terrible paintings. He even says himself at one point, I am not a kid, don’t treat me like one. But being an only child to a single mother, Violette’s love for Lolo is perhaps misguided despite her pure intentions. Lolo is very much a ‘mommy’s boy’, and he wants Jean gone as soon as possible.
This three-way butting of heads goes up a notch in the last act, as we don’t know what any of the characters are going to do next. And the more I think about it, that is one of the better compliments one can give a film. This film certainly avoids the clichés of the genre.
Overall, I loved this concept of a son meddling with his single mother’s love life, and Boon is a stand-out again as a comic actor. It is hard to dislike his character, despite his numerous flaws. Lolo though is the most fascinating character – his thoughts a complete mystery. And he of course has that cheeky, all knowing smile that suggests he may, or may not, be up to something sneaky. We of course mustn’t forget Julie Delpy, who plays the struggling single mother perfectly, her feelings often conflicted due to Jean’s erratic behaviour, as well as Lolo’s manipulative ways. She also wrote and directed the film and has done a fantastic job.
I love French comedy and I hope to catch more during this festival. Their humour feels less restrained and I am liking it a lot. It is very different from Western humour and therefore very fresh, and extremely funny!
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