The Father of My Children (Le père de mes enfants)


Even the most ideal families may have their own agonies hidden deep.

Even the most ideal families may have their own agonies hidden deep.

(2009) Drama (IFC) Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Chiara Caselli, Alice de Lencquesaing, Alice Gautier, Manelle Driss, Eric Elmosnino, Sandrine Dumas, Dominique Frot, Antoine Mathieu, Igor Hansen-Love, Elsa Pharaon, Olivia Ross, Jamshed Usmonov, Cori Shim, Yejin Kim, Philippe Paimblanc, Magne Håvard Brekke. Directed by Mia Hansen-Love

Offshoring

For most of us, having it all would have to include a wonderful, loving family, as well as success at doing a job that we loved doing. Sometimes though, that doesn’t always last.

Gregoire Canvel (L. de Lencquesaing) is a film producer who has had some success in the past. Right now he’s got a difficult director with an even more difficult star and the budget is straining at the gills. He’s dealt with that kind of thing before and his family is his safe harbor in stressful times – wife Sylvia (Caselli), eldest daughter Clemence (A. de Lencquesaing, Louis-Do’s real life daughter), Valentine (Gautier) and youngest Billie (Driss).

With his family, he can escape to idyllic homes and memorable holidays. His daughters worship him and his wife, aware in general of the financial difficulties that his production company is facing, supports him and adores him. Gregoire couldn’t have asked for a better family and he knows it.

But even the most loving, supportive family in the world can’t always protect you from calamity and when it comes, his life – and that of his family – takes a decided left turn, leaving pieces to be picked up and wounds to be healed, some of which may never fully do so.

Although perceptive viewers will probably be able to pick up what is to happen, I’m trying to keep it as obscure as I can because when it does occur, it still comes as something of a shock. The event essentially divides the film into two, with one centering on Gregoire and the other on Sylvia and Clemence. Although the second film is clearly the most emotional and memorable of the two, it would lose its impact without the first.

When most directors present a family in crisis in film, generally things get resolved in an hour and a half of screen time but some things cannot be resolved quite so easily, if at all. The consequences of our actions can have lasting repercussions not only on our own lives but on those around us, even on the very periphery. Hansen-Love seems to understand this better than most and uses both stories to drive home the point.

The cast isn’t as well-known in the States as it is in France, but certainly Louis-Do de Lencquesaing has the charisma to transcend language and subtitles. We watch his character slowly unravel, going from a confident, hard-working hustler with a cell phone constantly glued to his ear (sometimes more than one) to a shell of himself, one who no longer has the ability to cope with even the slightest problem. Having seen that kind of thing happen to a man in real life (more than one, in fact) Gregoire’s fall rings true. That we can see it coming and nobody else around him does is truly the tragedy here – often the ones closest to us are the ones we see the least clearly.

This isn’t always an easy movie to watch and if I have a problem with it it’s that the movie ended before the story did, which again is real life – a mini-series probably wouldn’t have been enough. We are drawn to these characters, come to care about them and then poof, they’re gone with so much unresolved. I wanted to know that they were all going to be all right and clearly Hansen-Love doesn’t want you to have a definitive answer on that. Normally, I’m all with that sort of thing but I think the movie did its job too well – when the end credits were rolling I felt frustrated. But at no point did I ever feel that I wasn’t watching a superior film – and this one is.

WHY RENT THIS: A searing emotional drama. Some terrific performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: I would have liked to see a bit more of how the family coped after the closing credits.

FAMILY VALUES: Some very adult themes, some bad language and some smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on the life of French producer Humbert Balsan.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $479,282 on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this movie broke even at best.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ordinary People

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Mud

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Yes Man


Yes Man

Carl and Allison need to break out of their prison of negativity.

(Warner Brothers) Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, Terence Stamp, Danny Masterson, Rhys Darby, Michael Higgins, Sasha Alexander, Molly Sims. Directed by Peyton Reed

We hairless apes can be a pretty negative bunch. We have a tendency to want to stick to our comfort zone, whether we are happy in that place or not. We rarely embrace the positive; we’d much rather say “no” to life than risk potentially making a fool of ourselves.

Carl (Carrey), a junior loan officer at a regional bank in Los Angeles, has taken this to extremes. Still emotionally stunted after a painful divorce three years earlier, he has blown off most of his friends, particularly Peter (Cooper), Carl’s best friend, who recently got engaged. Mostly he wants to avoid a chance meeting with Stephanie (Sims), his ex but in reality he’s stopped living.

When his boss Norman (Darby) asks him to a get-together, Carl says no. When someone hands him a flyer to see a band, Carl turns it down. Go out drinking with Peter and their other buddy Rooney (Masterson)? Forget about it. Carl would much rather cocoon himself in his apartment with a rented video before starting his dreary existence all over again the next morning.

That is, before Carl is dragged into a self-help group that worships the power of Yes. The guru of the group (Stamp) preaches the transformative powers of saying Yes to life instead of No. When Carrey appears hesitant (and endures a cult-like chanting of “NO MAN NO MAN NO MAN” from the seminar attendees), Carl is intimidating into accepting a covenant with the guru – that he must say yes to every opportunity that presents itself to him.

So when a homeless man demands a ride into a isolated hillside park? Carl must say yes. When the same man asks to use Carl’s cell phone? Of course, even though the homeless man drains the battery. Give the homeless guy all his cash? Si, amigo!

Strangely, this does prove transformative in Carl’s life, particularly when he meets Allison (Deschanel) who fronts a strange synthpop art band and runs a jogging photography class by day – how very quirky! However, one wonders how genuine the romance can be if one is required to say yes to everything the other suggests. Certainly Allison wonders when she finds out about Carl’s odd covenant.

This is a little bit too reminiscent of Liar, Liar for my liking – in that film, Carrey was a lawyer forced to say the truth no matter what by a magic spell. Here, it’s not so much magic as karma that goes after him; the first time he says no, he winds up falling down a flight of stairs and nearly mauled by the kind of dog that most apartment complexes won’t allow you to keep.

Carrey has never been my favorite comedian; he mugs a little bit too much and a little bit goes an awful long way. He really hasn’t varied his act much over the past 20 years going back to Ace Ventura Pet Detective and now approaching 50, it wears a bit thin. Still, when he reins in his more excessive tendencies (as he did in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) I actually do like him.

However, Deschanel is one of my favorite actresses. She has that quirky quality that indie film directors adore and she is also innately sweet, not to mention totally gorgeous. Whenever she’s onscreen, the movie works and not just because of her beauty or her quirkiness. She plays off of Carrey nicely and the chemistry between them is genuine enough that it makes you forget the age difference which might have made the movie romance a little bit creepy.

The movie has an outstanding support cast. In addition to a pre-The Hangover Cooper and veteran actor Stamp, it has small screen talents Masterson (“That 70s Show”), Sims (“Vegas”) and Darby (“Flight of the Conchords”) who is particularly engaging as the trying-too-hard bank manager Norman who has a penchant for nerdiness and Harry Potter.

Reed, who also directed The Break Up, shows flashes of brilliance in the director’s chair but is hamstrung by a script that follows Romantic Comedy formula 101 to a “T” which pretty much drains the movie of all its suspense. Also, the concept could have been tweaked a bit; Carl says Yes not so much because he has to but because he feels compelled to. It removes a bit of the dramatic tension that might have brought this movie a better rating.

For the most part, it’s fairly harmless and some of the humor that comes from the situations Carl gets into by saying yes gets more than polite chuckles. Given that I’m not a particular Jim Carrey fan may give you pause to consider that I might have rated this a bit lower than it deserves to be; certainly the work of Darby and particularly Deschanel make it worth checking out as a rental. However, at the end of the day this isn’t something I would watch again if I had a choice. That makes Yes Man a solid maybe.

WHY RENT THIS: Deschanel is one of the most engaging actresses in the business. Her chemistry with Carrey gives the movie added sweetness.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is a bit formulaic, particularly when it comes to the romance. When Carrey goes over-the-top, the movie gets a bit stale.

FAMILY VALUES: The humor can be crude and juvenile at times, with emphasis on the sexual. There’s also some brief nudity and a smattering of bad language. All in all, this is probably acceptable for most teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel share the same birthday, January 17th – exactly 18 years apart (Carrey was born in 1962, Deschanel in 1980).

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Both the DVD and Blu-Ray editions have music videos (which are in reality just full uncut takes of song performances) by Allison’s Munchausen by Proxy band, as well as a “Behind the Music”-like faux documentary on the band’s rise to fame. Norman gives us a tour of his bachelor pad/love nest and we see Carrey chug a can of Red Bull and give his spiel on Red Bull love on the Blu-Ray disc.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: In the Loop