Thursday 5 August 2021

Proustian bust: "Bye Bye Morons"

The French tragicomedy
Bye Bye Morons arrives here both preceded and overshadowed by its reputation. That it was a sizeable box-office hit in its homeland is the less surprising aspect, given some of the would-be comedies that have performed well on the Continent. That it swept the board at this year's César awards - winning Best Film, Director and Original Screenplay among its seven gongs - is, however, truly bewildering, suggesting either a serious post-lockdown dearth of alternatives or a disproportionate, heavily localised fondness for all those involved in its making. This is a lovers-on-the-lam movie where the fugitives start out dead or dying on the inside, and bond in a doomed pursuit of lost time. (Ho ho.) Virginie Efira - so good in In Bed with Victoria and An Impossible Love, soon to be seen in Paul Verhoeven's already notorious Benedetta - plays Suze, a hairdresser with a terminal illness who's elected to spend her final days tracking down the son who was snatched from her as a teenager. Albert Dupontel - acting and directing, and retaining his familiar air of harassed dishevelment - is JB, a mediocre administrative drone who reacts to a demotion by bringing a shotgun into the office, threatening to commit suicide, and instead injuring the colleague who happens to be handling Suze's case. That she and he would flee the scene together and amalgamate their remaining resources is a contrivance we might only buy if it led the movie anywhere worthwhile; instead, everyone scurries into territory that falls somewhere between tonally haphazard and suicidal in its own right. That Césars sweep looks increasingly like the judges rewarding a high level of difficulty, oblivious to the corpse lying face-down in the pool.

With the usual caveat that comedy is the most subjective artform, Bye Bye Morons just isn't funny enough when it's trying to be, and it's almost impossible to puzzle out what Dupontel is going for when he's not simply trying to be funny. A bad case of the cringes sets in early on, with the launch of the not-quite-amusing running gag that sees everybody fail to pronounce Suze's surname ("Trappet") properly; the laugh rate hardly picks up with the introduction of a blind archivist (Nicolas Marié, César-winner, bof), who proves exactly the kind of supporting character you'd expect to show up in a popular French comedy; and whatever's meant to be going on between Suze and JB gets gradually dissipated by cutaways to the travails of the film's minor players, reduced to one inconsequence among many. One potential selling point: thanks to cinematographer Alexis Kavyrchine, it's a rare screen comedy to foster a considered, glowing aesthetic. (It looks like a project that merits awards consideration, which may have counted for something.) The attempt to throw light on the darkness of this plot occasions one genuinely clever, poignant sight gag, as Suze drives the archivist through his hometown, and reflections in the passenger-side window reveal all the old man's memories as having been bulldozed over and rendered obsolete. Even this, though, speaks to how closely the comedy leans into things-ain't-what-they-used-to-be glumness. Perhaps only the French commercial cinema would afford this much space to a middle-aged white man lamenting the way the world now turns, a subtext only underlined by a cameo from Terry Gilliam, a filmmaker who seems to be working through his own issues in this field. For her part, Efira benefits from having straight drama to play, although it's apparently been ripped from some Victorian melodrama, and it turns silly late on as a master computer is produced to hack an office block and bring about the mother-and-child reunion. (Seven Césars, remember.) Safely ignorable for the time being, but I have a terrible feeling the whole is bound for an American remake that would be as unnecessary a second chance for an indifferent French commercial success as 2017's The Upside was for 2011's Untouchable.

Bye Bye Morons is now available to rent via Curzon Home Cinema.

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