In a span of thirty years, Francis Veber's movies, in the same vein than Billy Wilder's work, have always been consistently good and intelligent, only inspiring some cringe-worthy American remakes. "The Valet" was actually worse than any potential Americanized version, and the opening scene sent its tone of lame predictability.
Gad El Maleh and Dany Boon ride classy expansive cars and make a few snobbish comments as if they tried to impress each other. Later, the camera pans at the back of their shirts where we 'discover' they are parking valets. Anyone familiar with the trailer or the basics of humor could have seen this gag coming a mile away. It wasn't a bad one actually but it highlights the film's main problem: many promising things on the paper but a failure at the execution, starting with the plot.
Yes, a rich man caught with his mistress by a paparazzi and forced to pretend that the lover was actually the 'other guy' on the cover, was a juicy premise, a typical Veberian screwball comedy full of malicious intertwining maneuvers and the fetish character François Pignon, previously played by Pierre Richard, Jacques Villeret and Daniel Auteuil. But this time, Auteuil is the 'bad guy': Levasseur, the businessman who owes his fortune to his wife Christine. Kristin Scott Thomas plays (once again) her rich icy woman, with such a frigid authority it almost excuses Levasseur's affair.
And Veber's camera is so enamored with the beautiful, tall and young mistress Elena that it never elevates her above her sole, defining status: the trophy girl, Levasseur's first and then Pignon. It gets worse because of Taglioni's performance, she's good actually but there's too much self-awareness about her physical assets, she's so in-control of the situation, that the scheme orchestrated by Levasseur and his cunning lawyer (Richard Berry) backfires from the start, especially since Christine is determined to find the truth. Both engage their best detectives to watch the lovers and wait for the 'faux pas' (although with diverging motives).
In a better movie, Pignon could have cheerfully welcomed the opportunity but the script insists on his mediocrity and gentleness as if both were sides of the same coin. Here, he's a loser who can't even convince his childhood friend (Virginie Ledoyen) to marry him, you got to wonder what made him so sure she would say yes. He's a nice guy and a loser even by 'Pignon' standards, Pierre Richard and Jacques Villeret played Pignons with colorful personalities, even Auteuil in "The Closet" wasn't a decent simpleton, but Pignon, as played by Gad, is so flatly gentle and faithful (to the woman who rejected him) that it confined to 'asexual' contrivance. In other words, he was boring.
It's like making Pignon a decent fellow was a priority over spicing up the plot a little, Elena is nothing but a trophy girl. "She'll call you back", she says about his girlfriend, and she's right. Pignon's situation reminded me of the times where I met a beautiful cousin in the street and pretended (later) to my drooling friends she was an old acquaintance. Pignon's aura is elevated by his company and feminine jealousy does the rest. In this movie, women are driven by the shallowest motives and men are two-dimensional plotters or imbeciles. But labels are still prevalent and the 'hero' must triumph while the bad guy must get his comeuppance.
Levasseur starts as a troubled man trying to save his marriage and fortune, he spends the whole second act teased by his wife and worrying about the seemingly sensual interactions between Elena and Pignon, in a tense state that works like a punishment already, but for some reason, he's turned into a pathetic last-minute villain at the end of the film. He knows his wife framed him, his mistress manipulated him yet he blames everything on Pignon. And Pignon gets the girl he's always loved because she realized how 'interesting' he was. Superficiality runs in this film, it practically gallops, and don't even get me started on the cocky ringtones Don Juan.
From the very director who signed such gems as "The Dinner Game" or the recent "Shut Up", here's a movie whose characters are only props to highlight the shallowness of our time when they're not pawns
there's no redeemable character in that sad mess. I could feel the director slipping and I'm not surprised this was his last film before a remake (that failed). There's something that just rings false all through the film, and that includes the obsession with cell phones as if the old-school director wanted to modernize his movies. That might explain the casting of Gad as Pignon.
Pignon is a lovable outcast, but they tried too hard with Gad, he's got the handsomeness of a romantic leading man, and Gad belongs to the breed of comedians with a rather limited range. As Pignon, his sweetness was also wrapped in two facial expressions: crisped mouth with sad or puzzled eyes that either scream "I'm innocent!" or "What have I done?" in every frame. Where's the goofiness? Where's the genuine likability? Well, I guess it was somewhat present in the comic relief role, Dany Boon who played his buddy, he would have made a better Pignon
in my opinion.
The whole film is just a succession of scenes victims of a bad editing, like build-ups for gags that never happen, and when they do, they fall flat, except for a clever nod to "The Dinner Game", Veber's masterpiece. "The Valet" still met with moderate success, benefiting from Veber's reputation and the aura of all the leading stars, but the film never holds up to its premise.
And don't get me started on the ending, Veber used to end his movies with an icing on the cake, here, the cake was literally thrown to our faces, or was it to point out that this whole mess was only a "travesty" of comedy?
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