When billionaire industrialist Pierre Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil, "The Closet," "Caché") is snapped with his mistress by the paparrazzi, he must appease his wife Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas, "The English Patient," "Gosford Park") a 60 percent stockholder in his company, so he seizes on the out of focus guy who happened to be walking by when the photo was taken. François Pignon (Gad Elmaleh) is despondent over the rejection of his marriage proposal to his childhood love Émilie (Virginie Ledoyen, "The Beach," "Bon Voyage") who is more focused on her fledgling business than romance. When he is inexplicably offered pay to live with a supermodel he seizes the chance to prove to Émilie that he is more than just "The Valet."
Master of the frothy French farce, Writer/director Francis Veber ("The Dinner Game," "The Closet") has had nine of his films remade in Hollywood with this one already lined up for the Farrelly Brothers' treatment. There may be few surprises as to where this latest one is headed, but Veber socks it over with casting, pacing and subtext.
The film's theme of masquerades and subterfuges are introduced in the very first scene as two men pull up next to each other in expensive, flashy cars, but they're not who they appear to be. They are the valets of a Parisian hotel, François and his roommate Richard (Dany Boon, "Joyeux Noël"). Ingeniously, Veber will flip this charade on its head by film's end when hotel guests and employees alike all view the valet as a playboy of the first order, just as he showcases model Elena in ironic bridal regalia as the climax of a Lagerfeld runway show attended by Christine. Wonderful running jokes, such as a house calling doctor who gets treatment from his patients or the absence or presence of curtains influence on Levasseur's mood, are also expertly woven into the film's fabric.
Besides Veber's mastery of the genre, "The Valet's" chief pleasures is the terrific chemistry between Elmaleh and Alice Taglioni (2006's "Pink Panther," resembling a young Meredith Baxter Birney crossed with Rene Russo). She's a stunning cover girl, he's a not particularly good looking car jockey, but their characters grow into a supportive friendship that feels real because of the innate decency the actors bring to them. The great Daniel Auteuil, an actor capable of playing everything from a sexy romantic lead to a hunchback and everything in between, is a perfect weasel here while Kirsten Scott Thomas (the English actress is married to a Parisian doctor in real life and speaks the language fluently) brings an amused, haughty chilliness to Levasseur's wife. Dany Boon is the perfect sidekick, the slightly less evolved, easily hurt but ever loyal friend. Ledoyen's a bit washed out by the glowing presence of Taglioni, but Michel Aumont ("The Closet") is terrific as her hypochondriac doctor dad.
"The Valet" is an effervescent lark whose pieces all neatly click together. Veber's bright, snappy comedy is sure to entertain and ends with one, last gasping laugh of a comeuppance gag.
French farce, unlike that genre in other countries, is recognizable to the film buff for its sexy content, farcical story premise and tongue in cheek characters that, while not garnering out loud laughs, keeps you happily amused. Francis Veber’s “The Valet” is a fine example of this genre.
There are two stories taking place in the valet – Francois (Gad Elmaleh), an ambitionless parking valet, is madly in love with his childhood sweetheart, Emily (Virginie Ledoyen), but she refuses his marriage proposal; Pierre (Daniel Auteil) is a billionaire tycoon who is having problems with his mistress, Elena (Alice Taglioni). Circumstance throws Francois and Pierre together as the younger man inadvertently walks into the frame of a shot by a paparazzi taking scandal pictures of Pierre and Elena. The rich tycoon realizes, with the help of his fast-thinking lawyer Maitre Fox (Richard Berry), that Francois may be the key to saving his marriage and allowing him to keep his supermodel mistress. By making the scandal rags think that Francois, not he, is Elena’s amour, he hopes to diffuse a situation that could cost him his marriage – and a hefty divorce settlement. (His wife, Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas), is 60% owner of his vast financial empire.)
This is not a great, but a good, film. It is, after all, a farce so it does not take on “art” airs. Instead, it amuses you, the observer, by putting its characters in compromising predicaments and comedic situations. Little farcical asides, such as Emily’s aging physician father (Michel Aumont) who gets more care from his patients than he gives, help keep the humor quotient high as Pierre convinces Francois to be his beard with Elena. This results in a wonderful chemistry between Francois and Elena, who is the beautiful fairy godmother who helps Francois’s ugly duckling turn into a swan, as a real friendship develops between them.
Acting is on par with the French farcical nature of The Valet.” The great Daniel Aueil has fun as the put upon billionaire who wants to maintain the status quo – and his vast fortune. Gad Elmaleh and Alice Taglioni shine as the beard and the super model. Supporting cast helps flesh out the slapstick aspect of the film, especially Michel Aumont’s eccentric, lovable doctor.
Techs are slick with attention paid to the trappings of the rich and famous and its contrast with the lives of the working class schmuck. Costuming is elegant where it needs to be and production is first rate.
We watched “The Valet” with a friend who has steadfastly refused, for years, to watch subtitled films. Well, he not only sat through the whole thing, he actually got into the titles and, in the end, enjoyed the film enormously. High praise indeed, I think. I give it a B.
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