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Friday Film Review: The Valet (La doublure)

Friday Film Review: The Valet (La doublure)

Le Doublure (The Valet) (2006)

Genre: RomCom

Grade: B

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.

~Jayne

REVIEW: Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea by Sophia Nash

REVIEW: Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea by Sophia...

Dear Ms. Nash:

So. I’m thinking that I’m not quite the right reader for your books. “Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea” is meant to be a comedy, a piece of frivolity. It’s a tale of frippery, if I can borrow a period phrase. There is nothing wrong with frippery but sometimes it can be too overdecorated or too flimsy. I thought this story was both.

Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea Sophia NashThis book starts out with Prinny ordering six bachelor Dukes to marry. Who knew that Prinny was involved in making a gaggle dukes get married? This was the set up for the Kieran Kramer series (among others). In the Kramer series, Prinny stumbles through a secret door and commands all the members of the room to marry one after the other. In this book, the first Duke to marry is Alexander Barclay, the newly minted Duke of Kress, who lost his newly acquired fortune in a debauched bachelor party that has made the monarchy look bad. The debauched bachelor party led the Duke of Candover to miss his wedding and jilt an unknown bride at the altar. Har de har har. (I never knew when I was supposed to laugh in this book but I presumed this setup was supposed to be witty).

Alexander is a city boy and he does not want to be sent to Cornwall to rebuild, in one month, a crumbling estate while also hosting a house party so that he and his fellow ducal miscreants can find wives. Prinny is allowing Alex to use the treasury to restore the estate until such time as Alex can find a wealthy heiress. Alex isn’t a particularly nice guy. One reviewer at Amazon called him a frat boy and that is the perfect description. He doesn’t think much of the country folks (calling them tin as opposed to the gold of the burnished town folks, or in some cases fool’s gold). He is often prosing about making generalities about women being complaining, whiny, and overreaching. Unfortunately, none of these are recognized as flaws through which he must grow. Instead, they are part of what is supposed to make him charming and witty.

Alex comes across Roxanne Van­ derhaven, the Countess of Paxton, (Vanderhaven, really?) when she is hanging off the side of a cliff after her husband had tried to kill her. She realizes her husband’s murderous intent after she falls and he doesn’t return with the promised help. Instead Alex finds her hanging off the cliff and saves her. Roxanne begs for Alex to hide her after he tells her he will spirit her to a magistrate who will, of course, see that the Earl of Paxton is brought to justice:

He bit back a smile. It was unkind to find humor in any part of this unfortunate lady’s circumstances. “All right. Here is what I propose,” he continued. “Let us get you to the magistrate of the parish. He will sort this out and mete out the justice your de­ lightful husband deserves. No one is above the laws of the land, no matter what his station.”

After Roxanne convinces Alex that a magistrate is not the answer, they journey to his home whereupon hijinks occur. I’m pretty sure that the story was a mistorical. There was the outspoken valet of the newly made Duke of Kress who interjected his opinions in front of Prinny and six dukes, a couple of them royal dukes. There was the last name of Roxanne. Vanderhaven as the last name of British nobility seems quite rare. The entire modern tone of their discourse. The scene were a squatting crofter comes up to the Duke (Alex) and tells him that his family has been squatting for centuries and he’d like to go on squatting and Alex gives his blessing.

The story had a thing about details. It takes a fierce dislike to details. Who cares how Roxanne would dress at this house party attended by dukes and maids meant for Dukes. Why she would wear Alex’s Great Aunt Meme’s clothes. Or how Roxanne got her male disguise to attend her own funeral complete with a fake mustache. Or how she managed to take a horse from the Duke’s stable. Or to whom Alex lost his fortune or how Alex had even become a duke. Or why the Earl had a burial with no body. Or how Roxanne intended to assert ownership to her deceased father’s hidden fortune of gold guineas which were not left to her in the will.

Probably the most troublesome aspect of this story was its huge cast of characters and the non stop heavy handed sequel baiting. Not only are there several dukes at the party but there is one missing duke and everyone took turns wondering where he was. Things would occur that aren’t well explained to the reader but are clearly to be set up for later books. The unrequited feelings one of the guests had for another guest was more interesting than the furtive actions to be revealed later and the missing duke.

As I read the book I often thought to myself that there were definitely readers who would find the book funny and there were moments of humor and times in which the dialogue could bring a smile to someone’s face. I wondered why I couldn’t just lose myself within the text. Clearly this book wasn’t to be taken seriously. I kind of feel like the No Fun Police by pointing out the flaws in a book like this but every time I resolved to try to set aside my issues, a new problem would arise such as when it was revealed that the Duchess of March (clearly modeled after the Duke of Marlborough’s progeny) was only 17. Yet she was “the only female in the prince’s entourage”, the one female attending the morning after debauchery; the one female that was present with a bunch of men in a state of dissolute repair and undress after their bachelor; the one female who was present in His Majesty’s bedchambers with all the other dukes and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Oh, and the valet of Alex. I mean, What. The. Fuck.

The good thing is that Roxanne goes from trying to be the perfect wife to taking life into her hands, traipsing about as a man; helping rebuild (literally with her own hands) the crumbling manor; saving people from drowning. There are some nice women in the story with whom Roxanne forms a friendship. These ladies, of course, will be married off to the Dukes in latter books. The main conflict of the story I thought would be Roxanne being a) alive and b) married but it was primarily that Alex was instructed to marry someone wealthy and titled. The book was too crowded and the characterizations too weak for me. D

Best regards,

Jane

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