Les beaux gosses (2009)
User ReviewsReview this title
What I find makes this movie so good is the performances of the actors, who instill such life into their characters. Lacoste is incredibly funny as the nerdy guy with low self-esteem, but whose hormones are constantly raging. Sonigo is just as funny as the heavy metal loving, mullet wearing best friend who longs for the most beautiful girl in the school. Alice Trémolière and Julie Scheibling are fantastic as Aurore and Laura, the two girls who Herve and Camel lust after with varying degrees of luck. One last mention should go to Noémie Lvovsky as Herve's mother, who never stops prying and loving her son. Honestly, her character was so believable not just because Lvovsky was so good, but I can relate as my mother was a lot like her. Which brings me the screenplay, which is great as it brings a sense of realism to all the proceedings. Nothing is too far-fetched in this movie, which brings it above most American comedies of this nature.
The soundtrack is excellent, and of course, Sattouf's direction is excellent. Yes, this is a very crude movie, with the majority of it being about sex and the various other activities a couple may get up to. Not everyone will enjoy it, the constant talk of masturbation, sex, french kissing (hence the title), and porn will put off people who do not feel comfortable with those subjects. But at the film's heart is a touching story of slowly discovering one's self, and thankfully Sattouf does not resort to sappiness and sentimentality with this theme. Unlike the many American comedies which end neatly with everything returning to normal, this ends in a way which mirrors how high school can really be (but I'm not going to spoil that here).
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.
The awkward moments – like the boys getting caught perving on a neighbour - draw out a chuckle here and there, though the real hearty laughs are primarily induced from the smaller, subtler parts of the film benefitting from the nuanced comic performances delivered by its young, pimply cast. Vincent Lacoste makes Herve a naturalistic and relatable adolescent whilst Anthony Sonigo is more over-the-top as his ultra-libidinous mate Camel. There is also a side-splitting turn from Noemie Lvovsky as Herve's unabashed mother who has an unseemly, yet surprisingly never disturbing, interest in her son's sex life. The bit where she witnesses Herve snogging for the first time is one of many highlights – her reaction is completely and utterly priceless.
Writers Riad Sattouf (who also directed) and Marc Syrigas deserve plenty of credit too; their script has some undoubtedly memorable dialogue and interactions. A canteen scene where an inexplicably-cool blind boy chats up a naive girl offers one of the finest pick-up lines put to celluloid. Not to mention the deadpan reactions from Herve's group when they hear the school bully has died. It are these moments where the film shines and makes you forget about its numerous faults - the cultural differences to Australia make for some oddities – elsewhere in the movie.
A guilty 90 minutes indeed.
3.5 out of 5 (1 - Rubbish, 2 - Ordinary, 3 - Good, 4 - Excellent, 5 - Classic)
Riad Sattouf's first film as a writer and director is like the French version of American Pie. As with that movie, this is yet another comedy and coming of age film that explores an adolescent's fixation with sex. Herve and Camel regularly spy on their neighbours having sex, imagine themselves with the most beautiful girls in their classes and pleasure themselves with magazines. Some will suggest that this film is truthful to the years of an adolescent. To an extent it might be, but this is a film that begs the question as to when truth becomes a cliché, as countless other films have explored the same behaviour in more subtle, meaningful and original ways. This is a crude and juvenile film that takes these issues for laughs and only in the most superficial manner. Seeing The French Kissers recalls the indie comedy-drama Thumbsucker (2005), a superior film that also focused on adolescent behaviour. It rarely overstated the teenage interest in sex and its dopey adolescent protagonist was characterised with moments of frustration, highs and low, strengths and weaknesses. It felt like a finely realised visualisation of some of the most difficult times in growing up.
The two characters in this film though are so devoid of any redeeming qualities and substantial development that by the end some will be begging Sattouf to give them some dignity. They are hopeless in every aspect of their lives. They are idiotic, lazy, selfish, socially awkward and interested in little beyond sex and music. Both of the boys, though through no fault of their performances, are less credible than they should be because their roles have been written more like caricatures, coming straight from the handbook of bad adolescent behaviour. They channel every cliché imaginable for the nerdy teens, right down to playing games of Dungeons and Dragons. The credibility of the main relationship between Herve and Aurore is also strained because one has to question what exactly she sees in him. For his apparent obsession with sex, he initially does not seem the least bit interested in talking to her. Most disappointingly, the repetition of masturbation jokes grows very tiresome after a while and minimizes the number of laughs in the film. Some might enjoy this brand of gross out humour but others will surely find it particularly unfunny and unintelligent.
Domestically, The French Kissers has been a huge hit. Yet for Western audiences the issues explored in this film are likely to be overly familiar given that so many funnier and more intelligent films have dealt with the same concepts. If the characters had more qualities to evoke our sympathy for them, this could have been a more engaging and personal story, but at best it's rather hollow and two dimensional. For the debut of Sattouf it is not a terrible film, just one that shows his immaturity, most specifically, as a screenwriter.
The protagonist is immature, unlikable, and just plain MEAN. He dismisses a girl who has the temerity to ask him if he wants to go out by calling her a "cow" and walking away laughing at her, leaving her in tears. The callousness of that scene is never redeemed. That is just an example of the loutishness in this film that passes for humor.
I gave it a 4 only because of the impressiveness of the female lead. Other than her screen time, don't waste your time.