I’ve enjoyed lots of Francis Veber’s movies (and laughed at the nod to “Le dîner de cons” that’s mentioned here) but this one has romance as well as comedy. It’s a charming French farce that is very approachable. The actors are enjoyable, the action keeps moving and it’s truly funny. It’s also, despite being filled with some immoral people, a very moral little tale.
Rich CEO bastard Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil) has had a mistress for two years. Now Elena (Alice Taglioni) is pressing him to follow through with his promise to divorce his cold wife (Kristen Scott Thomas) and marry her. Though desperate to keep this woman he’s infatuated with, he still balks due to the fact that his wife owns a majority share of the company he runs and if he initiates divorce proceedings, she’ll clean him out. Elena is exasperated with his broken promises and issues an ultimatum. It’s during their fight on the street that a paparazzo captures the moment in pictures.
When the picture appears in a newspaper, suspicious Mdm. Levasseur questions her husband. Luckily for him, at the exact moment the picture was snapped, lowly voiturier (car valet) Francois Pignon (Gad Elmaleh) is passing by and Levasseur lies and says he is the man with Elena. He gets his smarmy lawyer Foix (Richard Berry) to track down Francois and offer a deal. If he’ll pretend to be lovers with Elena, Levasseur will pay him well. He’ll also put 20m euros in an account for Elena which she will either get -if no divorce comes through – or give back – if Levasseur marries her.
Francois agrees for his own reasons. His proposal to his long time girlfriend Emilie (Virginie Ledoyen) was turned down and he plans to use the money to pay off her newly opened bookstore and convince her to say yes. The ruse is begun with seemingly half of Paris watching. The fan mags are milking the story, friends and family members of Francois and Emilie are alternately envious or horrified, Levasseur is going insane watching Elena snuggle with Francois and his wife is cynically enjoying all his distress. Can all the mismatches be corrected, true love win out and everyone get what he or she really deserves?
The first funny thing here is the opening credits complete with Chuck Berry singing “No particular place to go.” A Chuck Berry song starting a French movie? Mais oui, c’est perfect as director Veber says. His commentary is also fun to listen to as he tells lots of interesting things about the actors, shooting the film and how it all came about. For instance, one of his toughest challenges was in finding a woman beautiful enough and, especially, tall enough who also speaks French and can act in order to play Elena. There are lots of lovely French women but since Elena’s character is a super model, height was a requirement. The next problem he had to solve was the fact that Alice towers over Daniel Auteuil. What to do? Have Alice sitting as much as possible when they were on screen together, of course.
Daniel Auteuil is one of my favorite French actors but he’s joined here by another I’m coming to like in Gad Elmaleh. Gad is just so sweet I can’t help but cheer him on as he struggles to earn the “oui” of the woman he really loves. One of the delights of the film is his relationship with long time friend and fellow voiturier Richard (Dany Boon) who is in envious and stunned disbelief that his average friend seems to have somehow caught the attention of this top model. Boon perfectly captures amazement, envy and “you go, boy!”
Alice Taglioni does a very creditable job in her role being both charming and determined to force her lover to keep his word. It’s hard to dislike her even though she’s been a married man’s mistress because she quickly recognizes where Francois’s real interests lies and gives him the benefit of her feminine intuition to smooth Emilie’s ruffled feathers. Virginie Ledoyen is lovely in that fresh faced French way but fades a bit into the background of the film. She’s not bad but just not as much fun as these others.
As I said, I love Auteuil and here he’s wonderful as a smarmy, rich enfant who wants to have his cake and eat it too. Watching him get wound tighter and tighter as his PIs report back how well Francois and Elena are working together – doing exactly what he wants and instructed them to do – is delicious. Then when he gets hoisted on his own petard is the piece de resistance. Who helps hoist him? Why his cool, controlled wife. Veber was skeptical at first that Scott Thomas could carry off the role but her flawless French and sophisticated beauty enables the character to be exactly what is needed. Her cynical amusement while watching the goings on and her delight in imaging her husband twisting in the wind keeps her from being a scorned woman and transforms her into a tower of strength. Her intelligence and cunning – the Curtain Brigade is a stroke of genius – end up turning the tables on the man who would do her wrong.
There are several tertiary characters who help round out the cast and add to the fun. Foix, the smarmy lawyer, and Patrick Mille, the smarmy cell phone salesman – with his patented and oft used hand kissing ploy – who pursues Emilie are people you love to hate. My favorites though are Francois’s parents – who are as gobsmacked as anyone about the turn of events but also hopeful of a happy ending with Emilie. Close behind them is Michel Aumont, Monsieur Pignon’s invalid doctor who usually ends up being tended by his patients while he makes his house calls. Watch for a final character who seals Levasseur’s doom and steals the final scene of the film. He, or is it she? – is fabulous.
I totally agree with people who say this is a cute, little harmless film. But it’s a well done, well acted film with several LOL moments – such as the reaction of the waiters who work in the outdoors restaurant where Francois and Richard park cars to Elena’s arrival one day or the doctor’s assessment of Monsieur Pignon’s shot giving ability or the final way Levasseur is brought low (I won’t spoil the fun by saying how). Sure it’s feel-good but because everyone truly gets what they deserve. Francois gets Emilie, Elena – I think – gets the money, Madame Levasseur gets her revenge and Mr Levasseur gets screwed. Perfect.