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The French title of this coming-of-age comedy is Les beaux gosses, "The Good-Looking Boys," and that's the first joke: these boys aren't all that good-looking. But first-time director (and comic book artist) Sattouf and his co-writer Marc Syrigas take the warm-hearted stand that adolescence is a goofy time for pretty much everybody. Hervé (Vincent Lacoste) is tall and scrawny and his Arab sidekick Camel (Anthony Sonigo) is short and has ridiculous long-in-back Seventies hair that signals his rock-star aspirations. The hair styles are iffy, the physiques are far from ideal, the clothes are mismatched, and they have acne. And the pimples aren't just painted on. But it doesn't matter. Hervé and Camel do okay, and the actors who play them are quite appealing.
Hervé goes up to Aurore (Alice Trémolière), one of the prettiest girls in his school, and asks her for a date, and she laughs. Aurore usually has a little entourage of blond, well-groomed boys around her. Before long however she sneaks off with Hervé and they kiss. Hervé may not be a relationship Aurore wants to acknowledge, but he's fine to practice on. And they go further.
American viewers may take Les beaux gosses for a knock-off of a Hollywood youth pic, and it has nothing radically new to offer in its plot line of a kid who scores and then gets his heart broken. The American market is saturated with this kind of stuff. But for francophone viewers, there are nuances in the story-line and the dialogue that get lost in translation. Imagine Heathers done into French. Like Heathers, French Kissers adopts and teases teenage slang. Hervé absorbs French rap lingo, which pops out with hilarious inappropriateness. He thinks rap is good seduction music, and at one point, trying to be casual, he addresses his school's black program supervisor as "nigga." In fact the humor is not so much in what the boys are doing as in the way they talk about it.
Overall Les beaux gosses is more a mockery than a knockoff of Hollywood testosterone, and feels somewhat remote from the excesses of Judd Apatow-sponsored features, though it has something in common with "Freaks and Geeks" -- but with more, much more x-rated stuff. The antics of Hervé, Camel, and their pals are blithely vulgar. There is so much gross-out and crude stuff here it ceases to gross out or seem crude. The specifics of masturbation (and the overuse of socks) and other aspects of teeanage sex are never avoided, and the American Pie/Superbad-style dirty talking and acting is as vivid as it is fresh.
Les beaux gosses also goes into lots of detail about who people are and what they do; the movie's great virtue is its specificity, despite its focus on generic (and amorphous) "ado" problems. A gay lit teacher isn't just suspected of being gay; he's in a magazine as a gay role model and a student asks him to autograph a copy. Emmanuelle Devos has an unusual turn as a haughty school administrator. Hervé's very French single mom (played by director Noemie Lvovsky) takes a humorous interest in his jack-off activities, and also follows him to his girlfriend's party. She's a millstone, but always a benign one.
There is, of course, at least one threateningly perfect boy, Loïc (Baptiste Huet), but he turns out to be far from perfect when a weird accident happens at a gym class whose tumbling sessions also give Hervé a bloody nose. Hervé, Aurore, Camel, and friends Benjamin (Robin Nizan-Duverger) and various others are messy, confused, hormone-crazed, and even sexually vague. Hervé's relationship with his mother is borderline incestuous and with Camel, as they act out and try out, has its homoerotic phases.
It's this cornucopia of absurd over-the-top-ness and richness of detail that explains Les beaux gosses' successful inclusion in Director's Fortnight at Cannes and its rave views after its summer 2009 French release. It was shown as part of the FSLC/uniFrance-sponsored Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at the Walter Reade Theater and the IFC Center in New York in March 2010.
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