"Jo" is a strange comedy, it indulges to so many embarrassingly bad moments, even by 60's- 70's French standards, yet it contains probably three of the most brilliant comedic moments from any film. Now, I'm wondering: is "Jo" a hilarious film with some bad moments, or an unfunny film with a few good moments?
I'm decided not to provide a definite answer to that question, out of my love and admiration to Louis de Funès, who deserves a spot in the Top 10 funniest actors who ever lived. If there ever was a Pantheon erected for comical legends, De Funès deserves a place among Chaplin, Keaton and peers. His mimics, mannerisms and body language possessed that unique timeless and universal appeal that prevented all his films to be branded as 'dated', even when they were.
At the end, even De Funès' detractors had a sentimental weakness for him and reckon that his talent could redeem the lousiest plots or any displays of bad acting, film-making or editing that could damage his films. But once you got De Funès on screen, you knew you were onto something that will draw a big smile in your face. Well,I smiled a lot with "Jo" but I laughed too, and I mean belly laughs hurting my stomach. So, if only for three hilarious sight-gags, I'm ready to concede that the film deserves to be watched, especially since it features, for the second time, Louis de Funès and Bernard Blier, perfect as the harassing no non-sense inspector Ducros.
To please your curiosity, one of the three laugh-out-loud moments is a hilarious running gag involving a couch. There are two but the best one consists on making Funès' character sitting next to the police officer and no matter the spot he chooses, he looks incredibly small. The scene is even more hilarious since Blier wasn't much taller than De Funès. The gag in itself is cute but its second using is the icing on the cake, De Funès sits with his real estate agent, an elderly small woman and yet she towers him with pride. Then he gets up and realizes he's shorter than her and his wife, and leaves the scene totally devastated. De Funès' short stature has always been a comedic asset but no film has exploited it with such amusing cruelty than "Jo".
The second gag is visual too, De Funès slide the hand rail, only to notice the presence of Ducros and gets back upstairs the 'Mary Poppins' way. The third gag is as random, but so are De Funès' funniest moments, a police officer (Paul Préboist) ostensibly courts his wife, De Funès' reaction imitating the sound of a cat are incredibly hilarious. I wish more Americans would be familiar with the work of De Funès, if only to have the privilege to enjoy such moments and thank God some websites like Youtube to break the frontiers of comedy. These are the three greatest gags of the film, many others involve a cadaver that can't be put straight under a couch and some irresistible exchanges between Ducros and De Funès that I'm afraid, will be lost in translation.
Now, need I to describe the plot? I'll give a few elements since I used the word 'cadaver'. The film is about a rich playwright, Antoine Brisebard, rehearses the perfect crime with his friend; pretending it's for a new script. But he has a man in his minds, a blackmailer named "Jo". The theme is surprisingly dark for a De Funès' film, but it works since Antoine is so hassled from beginning to end that we can't help but feel sorry for him. His misadventures start when he tries to bury a hole under the foundations of the future bandstand, except that the builder was so upset by the new hole in his hole he filled it again.
And after digging a new hole and putting the corpse, Antoine finds out the day after that that the foundations, supposed to resist for 200 centuries wouldn't survive a stormy night, so he must find a new way to hide the corpse, wrapped un in a bath curtain (the bandstand builder is played by Michel Galabru, another typical acolyte of De Funès). The following day is marked by zaniness and qui proquos, but the only actors who are believable are De Funès, Blier and Claude Gensac who played Funès' wife in about ten films, and again, she's of a scene-stealing delight. The lawyer plays his part very well, but Lord, what was with the actress who played the maid constantly laughing at any macabre scene? Since she witnessed the first false killing, she thought that anything else was a set-up. But the gag was so repeated it became quickly annoying.
The plot isn't to blame, not the main cast, but the director Jean Girault, should have paid more attention to these little details and re-shoot a few scenes that didn't involve De Funès. Although Girault is the director who directed De Funès the most, he wasn't on the same league as Molinaro ("Oscar" and "La Cage aux Folles") or Gérard Oury who signed De Funès' most acclaimed comedies ("La Grande Vadrouille" and "The Mad Aventures of Rabbi Jacob"), and it shows in "Jo", sometimes, very painfully. And I was bewildered at a film that could have allowed so many cheap moments where it featured so much comedic brilliance.
At the end, "Jo" is a mixed result, it's very funny when it's funny, but reaches so many lows that we only forgive because of the many laughs we had. But there's one thing that the film needed is a great ending, the perfect punch-line for a not-to-be-taken seriously story, but it was treated hastily as the rest of the plot, a pity because the film could have been one of De Funès' greatest films but it seemed that the director embraced the same stressful impulsiveness than his character.
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