By Shlomo Porath
The most interesting aspect of writer-director Vincent Garenq’s new French comedy Comme Les Autres is how staunchly un-political it is. Released in France last year, the film’s plot surrounds a 50-ish gay man trying to become a father however he can. It touches on issues such as adoption by same-sex couples, illegal immigration, show-marriages and homosexual identity crises. Yet it is almost entirely non-confrontational on politics and goes for a Brotherhood of Man type of approach (our differences are only skin deep and the like). This keeps the film rather fluffy and tame, but it does manage to effectively posit a fanciful yet not unbelievable optimism regarding tolerance in the 21st century.
Precisely because Garenq avoids politics like the plague, it is one of the few LGBT films that can exist without the necessity of being tagged as liberal or polemic, and without the weight of being an ‘issue’ film. Despite the (possibly) pure artistic intentions of the filmmakers, audiences going into films like Brokeback Mountain and Milk are being asked to be liberal, as well as discerning film-goers. The issues and the filmmaking are intertwined. Comme Les Autres doesn’t ask for one to take a stance- it merely exists in its small corner, and asks to be accepted or rejected as a comedy.
I had a decent time with it. It’s got a gifted cast, headed by Lambert Wilson, who had a memorable role as The Merovingian in The Matrix Reloaded (probably the only memorable aspect of that film). Wilson’s gaunt visage belies the vivaciousness he expresses as Emmanuel, our pediatrician with paternal aspirations. He has a good rapport with Pilar Lopez de Ayala, who plays Josefina, a young Brazilian woman he comes across in his search for a mother for his child. Pascal Elbe plays Phillipe, Emmanuel’s boyfriend, and ironically has the same kind of thankless role female stars might have in a heterosexual comedy (see the review below). Phillipe’s arc is schmaltzy and predictable. Even so, Wilson and Elbe are convincing as partners, and their bond allows Garenq to toy with the expectation of some of us straight people in the audience regarding Emmanuel’s relationship with Josefina (which brought to mind the Seinfeld episode where Elaine attempts to convert a gay man to her cause).
It’s funny enough (although it does get a bit broad at times, like a montage of lesbian couples Emmanuel meets with, one caricature after another), and touching at times, and although it ends a tad neatly, its ending does feel earned. We’ve taken quite a liking for these characters as well as the non-throat-grabbing methods of the director. It is especially interesting in its continuation of the trend present in Rachel Getting Married, that of the post-stigma society. That film has an interracial marriage (two, in fact) as the most normal thing in the world, without underlining the fact. This film, though not nearly as rich, takes the same approach with same-sex couples. Slight as it may be, it deserves some credit for that.
Moving from one kind of unique male relationship to another… I Love You, Man is yet another comedy starring an assortment of actors who made their name by starring in Judd Apatow films (Though Apatow is not credited on this film). This time, it’s Paul Rudd as a guy who has just gotten engaged to the lovely Rashida Jones (given absolutely nothing to do here, unfortunately), but has no close male friends to be a best man. He decides to look for a best friend, through a series of platonic ‘man-dates’. An extended montage of failed dates later (which includes Rudd being French-kissed, as well as the always popular projectile vomiting), Rudd runs into Jason Siegel, who has absolutely no inhibitions and is fascinated by Rudd’s lack of hetero-male relationships. As befits the relatively newly minted ‘Bromantic Comedy’ genre, the two of them meet-cute, get together, have an argument, break-up, and make up again. Surprisingly enough, through its smart-alecky twist on the romantic comedy, it actually touches on some real insecurities I know some guys have, about the certain undefined quality of platonic male friendship. The problem of having things up in the air, worrying about how often it’s okay to call, not wanting to seem too intense…stuff that we often see in your average romantic comedy featuring a dating couple, but I haven’t seen it before in context of a platonic male friendship. The film tries to erase the stigma that putting an effort into a male friendship is, well, gay. That makes it a bit more notable than it is as a comedy alone- an area in which it’s fine, but nothing particularly memorable.
The dialogue feels loosely improvised, and without the pizzazz that Apatow managed to achieve in Knocked Up. Also, the film is missing the supporting characters that made Forgetting Sarah Marshall -last year’s Siegel and Rudd pairing- memorable. It does have some funny people in the background, like J.K. Simmons and Jane Curtin who play Rudd’s parents- but there’s too little of either of them to make an impact (though one can never have too much J.K. Simmons in a film). Rudd’s charm is wearing a bit thin here, but he’s still fun to watch, particularly his awkward attempts at making his daily speech more cool. Siegel’s ridiculously confident new BFF is more fun (He has a dog named Anwar Sadat- not for any political reason, it’s just that the dog looks just like him), with his man-cave and fixation on the band Rush (who briefly appear in the film). He is almost saintly in how accepting he is of everything (though there are certain areas of his man-cave that are decidedly less than saintly, and are difficult to describe in polite conversation).
It’s fun and breezy and generally forgettable, although some guys out there may feel comforted to know that there are others who are disgruntled with the lack of clear definition in hetero-male relationships.