On voulait Tout Casser – Philippe Guillard

UnknownNot even actors of the calibre of Benoît Magimel and Charles Berling can breathe life into this lightweight, uninspiring comedy which is following a current trend in French cinema for celebrating longstanding male friendships – Les Coeurs des Hommes, Entre Amis, Nos Femmes. The twist here is one of this band of childhood friends has been told he only has months to live. Cue the signal for much reminiscing and soul searching about lost hopes, loves and dreams.  Death and its devastating effect on family and friends is relegated to the sidelines to make room for repeat scenes of five friends enjoying quality time together always laughing uproarously and making jokes at each other’s expense.  It’s juvenile stuff not helped by the cloying, overly sentimental tone, the clunky, highly improbable plot devices needed to tie up all the loose ends and a final scene which literally sees the main character sailing off into the sunset. It’s hard to believe this is from the same man who wrote the hugely successful comedies Camping, Camping 2 and Disco.

Kiki (Kad Merad) has been friends with Gérôme (Magimel), Bilou (Berling), Tony (Vincent Moscato) and Pancho (Jean-François Cayrey) for over 30 years. When medical tests show he has terminal cancer, he decides not to tell his friends about the diagnosis and to use the time he has left to sail around the world. But before he sets off, he needs to say goodbye to his lifelong friends who are each dealing with their own personal crisis.  Over the few days the friends spend together, Kiki’s impending death acts as a wake-up call for them to make major life changes.
This is only Guillard’s second time behind the camera after Le Fils à Jo (Jo’s Boy) in 2011 and his comic muse is definitely on a break. This dysfunctional bunch with four failed relationships between the five of them should in itself provide fertile comic ground. But Guillard never digs below the surface of his characters instead he grants them one or two humourous tics, in the case of Pancho and Tony, and pulls shamelessly on the heartstrings with Gérôme and Bilou.  Elsewhere the comedy is heavy-handed and unoriginal.  When the five friends are not making fun of each other, they mock fight and wrestle around like seven-year-olds in the school playground.  Oddly, they are supposed to have met at school yet there is a 16-year age gap between Berling and Magimel which surely calls into question the basic premise of the story.  Traditional ‘bromances’ relegate female characters to the background and there is no exception here with none of the women given a decent storyline.
Merad looks uncomfortable in his role as the condemned man. He is a good actor with an impressive track record including the most successful French comedy film of all time, Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks).  But he has virtually no dialogue and hangs at a loose end around the edges of the story.  Magimel, who was excellent in Emmanuelle Bercot’s gritty social drama La Tête Haute which opened this year’s Cannes Film Festival, goes through the motions as the lovelorn Gérôme while Berling, whose came to the public’s attention almost 20 years ago in Patrice Leconte’s Ridicule, is woefully underused.
Friendship, lost illusions, middle-age, loneliness – it’s time to change tack and find something else for these aging men to talk about.





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