Home-grown comedies are currently riding the crest of a wave in France. After the huge success of Qu’est ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu and the ongoing healthy performance at the box-office of La Famille Béllier, Martin Bourboulon’s debut feature Papa ou Maman has all the hallmarks of a bonafide hit. Co-written by Alexandre de La Patellière and Matthieu Delaporte (What’s in a Name, Un Illustre Inconnu) and starring Laurent Lafitte of the Comédie Française and Marina Foïs as the egotistical parents of the title, Papa ou Maman is an original twist on the tried and tested formula of family strife during an acrimonious divorce. Only here the parents are pulling out all the stops not to be burdened with custody of the children. If the humour is at times a touch sadistic, Bourboulon nonetheless pulls it off with admirable style and comic flair.
To the outside world, Vincent (Lafitte) and Florence (Foïs) are a model couple. They have successful careers, a wonderful home and three beautiful, if a times unruly, children – Mathias (Alexandre Desrousseau), Emma (Anna Lemarchand) and Julien (Achille Potier). Alongside the perfect marriage, the couple want the perfect divorce. All runs smoothly until both Florence and Vincent are offered their dream jobs abroad and custody of the children is not part of the deal. War is declared between the couple as they battle to avoid being lumbered with looking after their three offspring
While the Baby Boomer generation wants to believe they can have it all, the message is clear. At some point choices have to be made and priorities established. Running a successful life is one, long, juggling act and involves no small amount of self-interest. But analysis aside, is this fertile comic ground? Bourboulon believes so as he lays bare the true nature of the so-called perfect couple with highly amusing results. The ruthlessness and ambition which saw them succeed at work is now applied to their divorce and it’s not a pretty sight. Lafitte and Fois make excellent sparring partners and their rapid descent into the parents-from-hell is shockingly credible.
Athough the ending is predictable and the action takes a while to pick up speed, it is refreshing to see a film that is not afraid to touch on the less savoury characteristics of the Have-it-All generation.