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French Guy, The
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by Jay Seaver

"You'd need to be missing part of your brain to... Oh. Never mind."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: During the Q&A after the movie, filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming said she couldn't watch "icky" films. Which is fine, but it means that she was making "The French Guy" for reasons other than it being the sort of movie she would like to see. Which leads me to wonder - if someone doesn't particularly like this sort of black comedy as a genre, how are they to know when they've made a really good one?

One way, I suspect, is to ask yourself whether these characters would be entertaining if they were in a less repellent situation. If they're not, then you're probablly confusing shock value with genuine humor, and while there's nothing at all wrong with delivering a jolt, there's a good chance that it won't be as effective because we don't have the personal investment in these characters that would make it really shocking and horrific. That's a big issue for this film; it strings a series of weird and grotesque events together, but Fleming doesn't have the feel for the genre needed to really drive them home.

Part of the problem is the set-up. Elisabeth (Babz Chula) has just had surgery to remove a cancerous growth from her brain, and is sent home with some bandages and instructions on how to dress her head. Upon arriving home (actually, her friend Charles's apartment), she finds that sneezing causes intense pain, and that her jaw for some reason tends to lock, so she covers the entire apartment in plastic before taking a walk on the beach, accidentally delivering a head trauma to a young guitar player (Tygh Runyan), whom she takes back to the apartment. An ill-advised bit of intimacy leads to a bloody mess, which she (of course) must hide when Charles (Gary Jones) arrives home, with a string quartet in tow. And then her friend Ellen (Patti Allan). And then her daughter Anna (Carly Pope) and granddaughter Emma (Emma Karwandy). And the titular french guy living downstairs (Serge Bennathan), who remains almost completely unaware of the insanity going on upstairs, as he berates his maid/model (Heidi Iro).

This is the sort of film that becomes predictable, in a way, because after about fifteen minutes or so, you realize that you can predict what will happen next by thinking what a sane person would instinctively do when confronted with a situation and then expecting the opposite. To be fair, our main character has just had a section of her brain removed, so I suppose she does have a built-in excuse for acting stupid. Everyone else just acts weird, though, and not necessarily even in a way that's consistent with their other strange behavior. It's because of this that by the middle of the movie, we're able to shrug off cannibalism because by the time we get there, it doesn't necessarily seem any more absurd or transgressive than anything else that's going on.

This is the kind of movie where it's tough to judge the cast, because they are playing rather gonzo characters in unrealistic situations. Babz Chula plays Elisabeth as mostly dazed and tired; she doesn't use the "missing part of her brain" thing to wildly overact. Gary Jones plays Charles as having only recently joined the rest of the world in realizing he's gay, and his scenes are kind of weak; he just seems kind of generically excitable, and we don't really get a sense of what kind of connection Charles and Elisabeth have. Runyan is amusing in the first act as the deadpan self-aware singer/songwriter, although he's not given much to do as the film goes on. Carly Pope and her character are kind of wasted in this movie; she's got the One Sane Person bit nailed, but we never really get to see her thrown up against the weirdness. In a way, the French Guy and his girl are the most fun; they're able to really revel in being goofy stereotypical constructs. Bennathan wears a shirt with thin horizontal stripes, a beret, and a scarf to play a french artist, and the idea that he's caught up in his trivial pursuit while chaos is playing out upstairs is legitimately funny and horrifying. His goofy appearance and behavior makes the girl's unrequited adoration that much funnier.

It's not all bad, of course. Even though this apparently isn't her usual thing, Ms. Fleming does have some skill with the sick humor: There's a fine bit of comic timing very close to the end where the pauses between three successive "thump" noises is just perfect, for instance. For the most part, though, I think the funniest material is the stuff that could come in a somewhat less oddball comedy: Elisabeth trying to demonstrate her French only to find it really doesn't extend much farther than pointing at a baguette and saying "baguette", or yelling at the visitors telling her she should get some rest that she can't very well do that when she keeps getting visitors. She doesn't have nearly as sure a hand with the "icky" stuff.

I'm sure that, in an environment where she's more comfortable, Ms. Fleming is an excellent filmmaker - she's had over a dozen features and shorts at the Toronto Film Festival. But she's trying to be Alex de la Iglesia here, and it's clearly not her thing.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12982&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/23/06 18:27:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2005 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2006 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/31/11 Mikey T draws you in and slams the door shut. Awesome 5 stars
3/31/06 K. J. Cane Wickedly Funny 5 stars
10/10/05 L Wells AWESOME 5 stars
9/15/05 Debbie Totally memorable...I'm never french kissing again... 5 stars
9/14/05 Candice very weird but definatly new and great! 5 stars
9/14/05 Richard West The wildest comedy EVER!!! A future cult classic. Goring and classy at the same time. 5 stars
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Directed by
  Ann Marie Fleming

Written by
  Ann Marie Fleming

  Babs Chula
  Tygh Runyan
  Carly Pope
  Heidi Iro
  Gary Jones
  Patti Allan

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