Gabriel Julien-Laferrière’s first outing as director with the 2009 tepid comedy Neuilly Sa Mère was a domestic box-office success. It’s taken him five years to return to the big screen with an adaptation of Laurent Bénégui’s novel SMS and the wait is something of an anti-climax. SMS sits uncomfortably on the fence between a madcap comedy, a love story and a searing criticism of today’s obsession with mobile phones. It fails to come through on either promise leaving behind a disappointing, uneven shambles of a film.
We first meet Laurent (Guillaume de Tonquédec) hanging by the foot from a cliff face. Exactly how he ended up in this unfortunate position is told in flashback in the form of a goodbye message to his young son Milo (Thimoté Vom Dorp). Laurent is clearly having a bad day which kicked off when shoddy building work on his new house caused the roof to collapse flooding the building. Things go from bad to worse when he is robbed of his mobile phone, his wife is revealed to be having an affair and his business is on the verge of collapse. Throw into the mix an anti-mobile phone vigilante group and an ex-girlfriend (Géraldine Pailhas) and the scene is set for unlimited chaos.
This is not new territory for filmmakers. Martin Scorsese was already there in 1985 with After Hours, a brilliantly funny tale of a man who has the worst night of his life after a chance meeting a woman in a coffee shop. It works best when the audience sympathises with the character who is a seemingly innocent victim in the unfolding disaster. But Laurent is the creator of his own misfortune. His ensuing disastrous day is only a question of chickens coming home to roost. And the feelgood ending is a disappointment after so much time and effort has been spent leading up to Laurent’s realisation of his own role in his worst-day-ever.
De Tonquédec needed to bring more energy and a greater sense of outrage to convey the absurd situation in which the character finds himself. He should be the spinning top which draws everything into the maelstrom. Instead he is weak and insipid. It’s a surprising role for Frank Dubosc who has an already well-established reputation as a comedian in France. He starred in the hit Camping films and appeared earlier this year alongside the rising comic star Kev Adams in Fiston. SMS has him as Vincent, an unhinged vigilante. Dubosc is surprisingly straight-faced in the role seeming to ignore the comic possibilities of the character.
Inevitably there will be more and more films about the pros and cons of modern-day technology and its effects on society, but SMS has little to add to the debate.