“To Each, Her Own” is a French romantic comedy about a long-together look-alike lesbian couple, one of whom still hasn’t come out to her observant Jewish family.
Simone (Sarah Stern) may celebrate her anniversary with Claire (Julia Piaton) at a lively, gay-friendly party with all her friends. But her giddy, in-the-moment promise to “finally come out” to her folks is quickly abandoned when she heads to home for the High Holidays dinner with her family.
It’s bad enough that she’s non-observant.
“You think the Nazis asked if you were a practicing Jew?” her mom (Catherine Jacob) bellows, before making a racist crack about the maid. “If you’re going to die for being a Jew, you might as well be a Jew!”
She’s already got a gay brother, and that leads to “what the Torah allows” debates at the dinner table. Her boorish other brother (Arié Elmaleh) is about to marry, and nobody can understand why Simone can’t find someone. He offers to set her up with somebody from work, “They’re all great Jews with good jobs.”
But Claire is who she’s bringing to the wedding, she declares. And then she stammers (the film is in French, with English subtitles), “She’s my, my my…best friend!”
The infuriating David proceeds to set her up via the obnoxious Jewish dating site he manages. That’s a quaint gag for a gay romantic comedy in 2018, but some things move more slowly in the Old World. And the movie has a lot of that — quaint.
Simone talks Geraldine, a co-worker, into accepting in her stead. Again, cute and unrealistic — quaint. A few words of advice about ordering kosher (kosher-ish) and topics to avoid at dinner, and she’s set.
If only Geraldine (Clémentine Poidatz), whom we’ve established is a food sensualist, didn’t forget those instructions the moment she sits down to eat. If only she and the near-Orthodox Eric (Stéphane Debac) hadn’t hit it off — big time.
“He has a JAG!”
Simone has also set off sparks with her favorite hunky Senegalese chef (Jean-Christophe Folly), whom she hasn’t come out to either. All this not-coming-out-to-people is creating a mess, and confusing sexual attractions for Simone.
Maybe impulsively proposing to Claire wasn’t the right move.
“He’s a guy! It doesn’t count.”
The “closet het” (heterosexual) accusations fly and it all comes apart. How WILL Simone get it all back together?
“To Each, Her Own” traffics in stereotypes — treading lightly here, stomping through them in Army boots there.
Simone interacts with three tribes as she seeks her answers. Her lesbian tribe is outraged. Wali, the Senegalese chef, lets her into his community of ex-pats, Senegalese pals who reject going to this or that club because it only has Senegalese women in it. Muslims aren’t crazy about Jews. If they find out….
And Simone’s Jewish family/tribe is sure to the last to know about her sexuality, as if she’s got a firm grip on it herself.
One thing all these tribes seem to have in common, a form of “arranged marriage” hangs over members, expectations.
Confusion reigns and misunderstandings abound as Simone’s on récolte ce qu’on a semé, or as we say in the States, “chickens come home to roost.”
Homophobic white working class men, black women who bark at how white women and black men “never work out,” food-obsessed females moan in ecstasy over sensual meals, lesbian couples who match their hair color, racist bank managers sneer at “Africans,” clannish racist Jews whip out the Holocaust card at the beginning of every argument, clannish African Muslims eschew pork, lust after white French women and recoil at Jews, and composting big city lesbians look on any coupling outside their community as a personal, sexual and political betrayal.
Those are all stereotypes and cliches, kids. Let’s not even get into the comical foreplay practices of the gay brother (Lionel Lingelser) whom Simone needs to comfort her.
Director Myriam Aziza’s film scores points with its funny family angst, amusing generational differences within the gay community (talk of marriage, settling down, babies, which older lesbians see as “boring” and “straight” and selling out).
The title “To Each, Her Own” points of a relaxing of rigid “norms” — based on religion, prejudice, stereotypes and cliches. But Aziza is too busy recycling stereotypes, complicating, recomplicating and building toward a massive toppling of the tower of quaint little lies to really get around to that.
You just know somebody’s going to have a heart attack when the truth — or a version of the truth — comes out. Will it be because she’s with a black guy, or she’s with a gay woman, or that neither of them is Jewish?
The performances are perfectly serviceable, but building this thing around a passive, pathological liar, a literal “love the one you’re with” butterfly, might be the most quaint thing about it. It’s more maddening than “motivated,” more eye-rolling than funny.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, sexuality
Cast: Sarah Stern, Catherine Jacob, Jean-Christophe Folly, Julia Piaton
Credits: Written and directed by Myriam Aziza. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:35