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"Pun is the poor man's wit" was a quote I always appreciated from the film "Ridicule". And it's true, French language is so rich that no matter how funny or smile-inducing it is, a pun is such an easy (and cheap) way to make you laugh that it's almost counter-productive.
But I guess you're allowed to one or two exceptions per movie, take "La Vérité Si Je Mens 2", a highly superior comedy centering on French Sephardic community: the future in-laws discuss about the wedding, the pun works because the wealthy and mildly snobbish bride's parents think they deal with people from the same milieu, so when the bride's mother suggests as a caterer the prestigious 'Lenôtre', which literally means in French 'ours', the other mother, played by Gladys Cohen, naturally asks his name, it goes on like a "Who's on First" routine but it's the only pun-related gag, and a damn good one. Basically, you multiply this effect by one-hundred and you get "Coco", which is not good.
Indeed, in a good comedy, gags should be a vehicle to the plot, in the bad, it's the opposite, except if you get to the level of Abrahams and Zucker parodies or the Marx Brothers films but in the case of "Coco", it's just too much patience-challenging. When it's not the mother mispronouncing a word, you have the main character Simon Bensoussan aka Coco distorting French language and using neologisms out of anger or hip-snob-post-modern slickness. We also have him brainstorming with his merchandising expert friend on the new brandname to give to his sparkling water, or the customized yarmunkles ('kippa' in French) to wear to wear during his son's communion: and I guess, we should all go ha-ha-ha when hearing the word Kipaa-cabana.
It's really frustrating when a comedy relies on the same comical effect, and it proves one thing true: you can't build a movie out on a sketch, no matter how funny it is. "Coco" was adapted from a hilarious sketch about an egomaniac, wealthy Sephardic Jew who wanted to celebrate the greatest bar mitzvah for his son. He's so creatively over-the-top that the sketch escalates to sheer zaniness: he'll make a table positioning software (to avoid classic family conflicts), he won't hire a photographer, but a sculptor, his son will make an entrance by helicopter. But the best is still to come at the end, he wants to keep secret the guest star's name, because he hates to brag. That's as perfect a punch-line as the sketch gets, and I don't think there was any need for further development.
But it seems like Gad El Maleh, the most popular comedian of his generation, didn't learn the "Chouchou" lesson, another great sketch character (a transvestite with Arabic background) who inspired a weak film in 2004. "Chouchou" had pleasant and likable characters but no story, and an extremely weak and annoying antagonist, the film was a hit because it was one of the first El Maleh's leading roles, and everyone was expecting quality gags. The audience wasn't fooled though by "Coco", as the film had an even more one-dimensional protagonist: a rich obnoxious self-important businessman who wants to impress everyone through his bar mitzvahs's son. In 2009, in the midst of the economical crisis, it better had to be funny and had a good story to tell.
Many movies center on a wedding, and the bar-mitzvah is such an important event it can call for a good film, but there's a problem: the character who should be the most concerned by the plot is nowhere. We hardly see the son and we don't really care about him because the story doesn't make us care, it's the father's show. When the film finally decides to give the son some substance, it's too late, we're just too exhausted by Coco's antics and his obsessions that the final father-and-son moment at the rink doesn't feel emotionally rewarding, but rather contrived. At least, the film should've stayed focused on Coco and reveal to us the roots of his egomania. Was it some childhood episode? A lack of affection from his mother? A personality totally opposite to the one he constantly displays?
The soul of comedy is unpredictability: any surprise, any twist in the story would've been most welcome; instead, we have a film about an unlikable character, a seemingly loving father who loves himself a bit more, surrounded by characters who can only 'endure' him without daring to steal his thunder. The wife's needed more development as in the film, she mostly sounds like a gold-digger turned into an angry housewife. At the end, the only two sympathetic characters were the Arab driver and the mother, played again by Gladys Cohen. She's not the stereotypical hot-headed and overly-loving Jewish mother, she wants her son to be more restrained and dedicated to his family, and it's a pity that the script (and its abundance of mispronounced one-liners) constantly makes a fool of such a sweet and endearing character.
It's a pity indeed because the film had the potential in the 'heart' department: centering on Family, featuring many friendship scenes between Arab and Jewish characters... but overall, "Coco" fails again to establish a viable transition from stage to screen, it's incredible that such a charismatic and beloved comedian as Gad can't pull a 'serious' comedic performance. As funny and likable as he is, he's not much of a director when it comes to the big format, and maybe he sinned by his own character's megalomania and should have allowed other screenwriters and a talented director to assist him.
And that's probably the worst aspect of the film, it's not even unpleasant because it features an unlikable character and a plot that insults our intelligence, it's also an insult to all the wannabe screenwriters and directors who could make better movies if they had Gad's "connections". That's too many negative vibes for one movie.
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