(NB: No trailer available online with English subtitles)
Featuring: Patrick Bruel, Valérie Benguigui, Charles Berling, Guillaume de Tonquédec, Judith El Zein, Françoise Fabian, Yaniss Lespert, Miren Pradier, Alexis Leprise et Juliette Levant
Directors: Alexandre de La Patellière, Matthieu Delaporte
Writers: Alexandre de La Patellière (original play), Matthieu Delaporte (original play, screenplay)
Reviewer: rolanstein (one-word verdict: hilarious)
Sorbonne professor Pierre (Charles Berling) and his schoolteacher wife Élisabeth (Valerie Benguigui) have invited Élisabeth’s suave real estate agent brother Vincent (Patrick Bruel) and long-time friend and classical trombonist Claude (Guillaume de Tonquedec) to dinner. The four go way back, and settle into their routine of joshing and paying out on each other. The jovial mood evaporates when Vincent announces the outrageously controversial name he and his partner Anna (Judith El Zein) have chosen for their coming child. All erupt in protest, led by leftist Pierre, who works himself into a frightful lather. But there is even more outrage in store as the evening progresses…
What’s In A Name is adapted from a stage play of the same title, and features virtually the same team of writer/directors and performers (Charles Berling – who plays Pierre – is the only cast member who was not part of the original crew). The film retains a theatrical feel. Apart from some opening establishing shots around Paris, the setting is confined to the dining room of Pierre and Élisabeth’s apartment, all the ‘action’ taking place in the non-stop dialogue.
And what terrific dialogue it is: tight, sparkling with intelligence and wit, laugh-out-loud funny. Comedies rarely hit the spot with me, especially Continental ones, and most especially farces, but this one is irresistible. Just genuinely bloody hilarious.
Much of the credit must go to the actors, who are perfectly attuned to their roles (unsurprisingly, given their experience performing the stage play), delivering their lines with choice timing and clearly thriving off the excellent script. Patrick Bruel is incandescent as Vincent, the pisstaking real estate brother of host Élisabeth, whose ludicrously controversial choice of name for his son is the spark that sets off a comedic bonfire, sending opinionated and didactically politically correct leftist professor bro-in-law Pierre close to conniption. The film peaks with Vincent’s unnervingly rational extended argument in support of his name choice, which is both funny and intellectually engaging.
Once the uproar over Vincent’s baby name dissipates, the spotlight switches to classical musician Claude, nick-named The Swiss due to his bland, neutral demeanour (!). Turns out these still waters run deeper than a puddle, though no less murkily. He has been sitting on a secret about his love life, which the gang had long suspected, but the truth that emerges with the assistance of wine and communal prompting is far more contentious and confronting than anyone had anticipated.
In terms of its cinematic qualities, this is plain vanilla, unadventurous at best. But really, it’s appropriate that the cameras stay unintrusive. The fireworks going off in the dialogue and the characters’ responses are the main game here.
This is undoubtedly one of the funniest movies I’ve seen, an absolute hoot! Don’t miss.
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