The films of writer/director Francis Veber are a bracing reminder that French comedies can be every bit as broad, unsophisticated and cliched as their American counterparts.
Pierre Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil) and Francois Pignon (Gad Elmaleh) both have girl trouble, but that's where the similarities end: Millionaire businessman Pierre is juggling his icy wife, Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas), who happens to own majority shares in his business, and his supermodel mistress, Elena (Alice Taglioni), who's tired of being bought off with lavish gifts and promises that her boyfriend of two years will one day get a divorce. Parking valet Francois is head over heels in love with Emilie (Virginie Ledoyen), whom he's known all his life, but she rejects his marriage proposal: Emilie isn't sure how she feels about Francois and anyway, she isn't about to commit to marriage when she's just taken out a hefty bank loan to open her own bookstore. Pierre's and Francois' lives intersect when Francois happens to be walking down Boulevard Pascale at the very moment that a paparazzo snaps some incriminating pictures of Pierre and Elena together. Desperate to convince the spiteful Christine that things aren't as they appear, he claims that Elena is actually Francois' girlfriend and then pays both Elena and Francois to pretend they're living together. Elena drives a hard bargain, but Francois agrees to the deal for a mere 32,450 francs the sum it will take to pay off Emilie's loan. The hard part is actually pulling off the deception: Francois and Elena really do have to share Francois' rundown apartment and make out in public. If they don’t, no one least of all Christine will be fooled. The ensuing complications are exactly what you'd expect, padded out with digs at Francois' boring, bourgeois parents (Michele Garcia, Patrick Mille). Veber even sneaks in a smug reference to his own THE DINNER GAME (1999), in which rich creeps try to one up each other by bringing the stupidest, most dreary person they can find to a monthly dinner party: Francois' dad has unwittingly accepted an invitation to just such an event, on the strength of his corkscrew collection.
Given that Veber's LE GRAND BLOND AVEC UNE CHAUSSURE NOIRE (1972), L'EMMERDEUR (1973), LE JOUET (1976), LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (1979), LA CHEVRE (1981) and LES COMPERES (1983) have all been given made-in-the-USA makeovers as, respectively, THE TALL BLOND MAN WITH ONE BLACK SHOE, BUDDY BUDDY, THE TOY, THE BIRDCAGE, PURE LUCK and FATHER'S DAY, odds are good that LA DOUBLURE (which actually means "The Stand-in") should be coming soon in an even cruder, more obvious form. Consider yourself warned. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh