A poor journalist finds himself as a toy of a boss' son. Making friends with a naughty child, he tries to save him from the cruel power of his father.A poor journalist finds himself as a toy of a boss' son. Making friends with a naughty child, he tries to save him from the cruel power of his father.A poor journalist finds himself as a toy of a boss' son. Making friends with a naughty child, he tries to save him from the cruel power of his father.
Mind you, Veber's films might not be the most hilarious, but their popularity mostly relied on the emotional appeal behind the laughs. Indeed, Veber, with a remarkable craftsmanship, always knew how to to get the right emotion at the right time: the movie is not funny all the time but when it is, it is VERY funny, and when it's not, it's still positively affecting. And that's the secret of great comedies; their priority is not to make you laugh, but to tell a good and original story, and that's what makes the gags work while even the greatest gags can't be redeemed by a lousy plot.
Now, to "The Toy"'s story. It's about a journalist, Pierre Richard as François Perrin, who's just been hired as a trainee in a newspaper whose CEO is the charismatic Mr. Rambal-Cochet, Michel Bouquet as an equivalent of Arnaud Lagardère in France, the press tycoon with a hand on all French industry's key-sectors. Reporting in a toy factory, François is chosen, to his great displeasure and to the embarrassment of Michel Aumont (the head of the factory), as a new 'toy' by Eric Rambal-Cochet, the President's son, a rich and spoiled little brat, convincingly played by Fabrice Greco.
The purpose of the film might sound silly, but this is the quintessential 'Veberian' touch: the little bit of fantasy handled in a rational way, such as the notion of 'bad luck' in "The Goat" or the father's comical mix-up in "Les Compères". I concede It's hard to imagine that a no-nonsense adult, especially François Perrin who doesn't have this time the usual goofiness of Pierre Richard's roles, would accept to be a little boy's toy, abandoning his job, his life, just to please a child. But Veber makes the suspension of disbelief acceptable, a credit to his writing talent that shows right in the opening scene.
Pierre Richard with a beard is quite an unsettling sight and thankfully, he is immediately asked by the President's Assistant Blenac (Jacques François) to shave because the President hates beards. For some reason, it doesn't strike as an odd thing especially when we discover him. Very far from the stereotypical tyrannical tycoon; Michel Bouquet plays a rather affable and sympathetic looking man. This first impression is contradicted when he fires an employee (Gérard Jugnot in one of his earliest roles) just because his hands are sweaty, and when he sits for lunch and pulls a very long table in his direction forcing everyone to switch their plates, it's a surrealist moment but still important for the man's characterization.
The set-up reveals Rambal-Cochet's degree of authority, he can fire whoever he wants and applies the slightest of his caprices to please himself, imagine what it would be for the only person who can control him. Imagine if the boy insists to have François Perrin, keep in mind that it's the 70's, and Perrin knows what unemployment is like, then, his acceptance is not only plausible but logical. It's even more logical when we get to the Rambal-Cochet's mansion and discover Eric's playing room, a dreamy set, a sight of heaven for any kid, full of games, from the most common to the most expensive, billiard, table football, Eric has any toy he could dream of but he acts as he couldn't care less, for one thing, he's not alienated by the world he lives in.
How could he be anyway? There are just too many toys, and one can understand how he'd get easily tired and want something different, and Perrin's acceptance is never taken for granted as Rambal-Cochet tries to reason his son. The trust between François and Eric is a very slow process. François, prisoner of a situation he can't control, reminds of Joe Gillis in "Sunset Blvd." with the same powerlessness toward his 'Master'. But while another director would have ruined an excellent plot premise for cheap jokes- after all, you can do many things with an adult befriending an obnoxious kid- Veber doesn't fall in that trap and guides the film in the right direction, first by showing hints of a fondness on François, renamed Julien. And to realistically tackle François's natural reluctance, Veber goes farther in the very notion of toy that defines the film.
François, called to join a strike against abusive mass lay-offs, quickly realizes his strong position. While he couldn't open his mouth when he was working, he could control his boss through his son. In other words: rather to be the toy of a boy than an adult, and as it appears, Rambal-Cochet treats his employees with the same carelessness than his son. The film even reaches a moment of pure brilliance and not quite unrealistic, when the President questions the limits of his authority when he asks Blénac (his Assistant) to undress in front of him. "The Toy" provides a very subtle social commentary about the power of press and its interference with many spheres of freedom and the way to resist the pressure, through courage, respect, understanding and a very unlikely friendship.
And the very catchy music by Veber's composer Vladmir Cosma, who'll become a long-time collaborator, adds this touch of playfulness and poignancy incarnated in the film's final shot and incarnating the 'Veberian' touch in his much promising debut.
- May 21, 2012