This may sound odd, but it’s refreshing to see a sex farce without sex. In this film, written and directed by Francis Veber, there’s little in the way of leering and lechery, no gratuitous nudity, no titillating brushes with sex, and no lights-out sweat-fests to spark our pathetic little imaginations. “The Valet” is simply a sweet comedy that centers on an average good guy and a supermodel who’s surprisingly average in her own sensibilities.
Francois (Gad Elmaleh) works as a parking valet at a swanky Parisian restaurant with a postcard view of the Eiffel Tower. He and his co-worker/best friend Richard (Dany Boon) share a tawdry apartment and have modest dreams. With Francois, it’s to propose to childhood sweetheart Emilie (Virginie Ledoyen), the daughter of his father’s doctor who runs a debt-ridden bookstore. She needs more than 32,000 euro to stay afloat, and Francois’s job isn’t going to solve the problem any time soon. What’s worse is that when he finally does get around to presenting her with a ring, she rejects him because she only thinks of him as a friend. Ouch.
Sound familiar? Well, it should. Francois is the quintessential nice guy who’s not destined to attract the cheerleader or supermodel or make it to the top of the financial world of movers and shakers. He’s just a decent fellow who has solid values and oozes normalcy and unpretentiousness from every pore. Even when his life changes radically, he still remains constant in his values and behavior.
This farce is set in motion when billionaire CEO Pierre Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil) is caught by the paparazzi with his supermodel mistress, Elena (Alice Taglioni). Their picture is splashed across the front page of the tabloids, but quick-thinking Levasseur tells his wife, Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas, “The English Patient”), who just happens to be majority shareholder, that it’s the blurred-out face to the right of the model who’s the boyfriend. He was just a victim of circumstance.
That blurred-out face was, of course, Francois, who just happened to be walking past when paparazzi snapped the picture. I don’t know how they manage to find Francois so quickly–Paris is, after all, a huge city–but they do, and Levasseur’s attorney asks him if he’ll pretend to be with a supermodel for a few days. “How much do I have to pay?” Francois asks, just dripping with average-guy believability. No, he’s told. They’ll pay himwhatever he wants. And typical of the sweet tone of this film, all he asks for is the exact amount that Emilie’s store is in debt–not a penny more, and not a penny less, which, of course, makes him an altruist and a nice guy times ten.
Supermodel Elena, meanwhile, is easy to convince. She’s been wanting Levasseur to leave his wife, and he promises he will if she’ll pretend to be this schhlump’s live-in girlfriend. Deservedly suspicious, she wants a check for 20 million in good faith money, which she’ll return to him when he divorces. Otherwise, it’s compensation for all the time and emotion she’s invested in this guy.
There aren’t a lot of complications or twists and turns in Veber’s screenplay, but the simple trajectory seems totally compatible with the tone and main characters. The humor is dry and subtle, not broad, and that’s also in keeping with the feel of this entertaining film. From the beginning, where we see a doctor making a house call and see that it’s the doctor in bed and not the patient, we understand that clever writing will supply the humor, and that this is a comedy of character as much as situation.
Mrs. Levasseur hires a private investigator, Pierre has men tailing them, and Emilie and a would-be suitor also are thrown into the mix as this farce plays itself out. But again, even when the situation calls for Francois and Elena to share a bed, it turns out to be perfectly sweet . . . even a breast-grabbing incident in half-sleep.
“The Valet” won’t win any prizes for complexity or laugh-out loud humor, but it’s a solid and engaging film.
The picture is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and mastered in High Definition. There’s a slight bit of graininess, but the colors are bright and true, with little bleed, and there’s nothing in the picture to detract from the viewing experience.
The soundtrack is a natural-sounding French Dolby Digital 5.1, with English subtitles. Bass/treble balance is good, and so is ambient noise across the rear effects speakers.
Veber provides a director’s commentary in English–his first attempt at doing so, he confesses–though you wouldn’t know it. I’ve heard directors for whom English is a first language stumble more than this fellow does, and Veber offers a solid (if unspectacular) play-by-play that gives us a nice balance of behind-the-scenes stories and director point-of-view decisions. There aren’t as many fun anecdotes as you might wish, for a comedy, but it’s a decent-enough commentary track.
The only other bonus feature is “The Making of ‘The Valet’,” which is a standard clip montage mixed with talking heads. Pretty ordinary.
As I said, it’s not often that you see a sex farce that isn’t dripping with sex, but “The Valet” proves it can be done. It’s an entertaining film that has some laugh-out-loud moments.