There was a stretch back in the ’90s and early 2000s when every American network sitcom did an episode or two about how to get “out of the ‘friend zone.'”
So think of the French rom-com “Friendzone” as “Friends” with less coffee and more nudity, and in French. Because I sure did.
This time-killer of a romance has a touching moment or…OK, there’s just one. And there’s a laugh or two. Yes. Two, one of them a fake-out when we think a character’s been killed off. Because THAT would be edgy.
But no. There’s nothing about this Around the World With Netflix outing that doesn’t seem as familiar as a “Scrubs” rerun, with even the nudity playing “A Shot in the Dark” games with the whole “caught skinny dipping on a nude-friendly beach” bit.
Mickaël Lumière (“Mon Bebe,” aka “Sweetheart”) stars as Titi, a male nurse we meet as he joins his girlfriends/fellow nurses (Manon Azem, Fadily Camara, Constance Arnoult) for a bachelorette party weekend on the Riviera.
They’re free spirits, confident, beautiful women who join the crowd at their resort in ditching their bikinis and hitting the water. Titi? He’s a bit of a lump of the “I’m going to read a little and go to bed” (in French with English sutbitles, or dubbed) type.
Still, the water looks inviting, so after everybody else has gone, he strips, takes a dip and gets into a predicament with the gorgeous Rose (Eva Danino). She steps on a Weever fish, he knows how to help because he’s a nurse. And yet, he’s buck naked and “It’s too complicated to explain.”
Still, he nurses her, gets her back to her room, and…doesn’t take advantage of her obvious pleasure at being cared for, massaged and what not.
They get together again back in the city, and she seems to enjoy his company, likes joking around about what they’ll name their children after.
She’s a children’s fashion entrepreneur, so he goes shopping with her. They Netflix movies as he gives her foot massages and she whines about her jerk of an ex.
But let Titi — short for Thibault — show up well-dressed with thoughts of romance and see what happens.
“A date?” “Oui.” With who?” “You!” Ok then, but did you bring condoms? Before he can admit that he did, she bursts out laughing. “Wouldn’t THAT be CRAZY?”
He is in the “friend zone,” which at least sounds prettier in French (zone amie).
“It’s SYSTEMIC with you,” he’s scolded.
Good thing he’s got this hot trio of ladyfriends to help him change that. They propose a bit of coaching, tell him to lie about leaving the country for a bit so that he can hit “restart” on their relationship. Let the “makeover montages set to music” begin.
Maud (Azem) is the perfectly-conditioned lesbian getting him into shape and instructing him how to sexually please a woman. Lulu (Camara) will drag him to her dance classes. Alex (Arnoult) will work on his attitude.
“You’re not some doormat!” “You talk way too much!” “No laughing!” “Ambiguity is the key to intimacy.”
They give him a test run, send him up to a bar to hit on this lovely woman there, and his blunt, laid-back vibe clicks.
“I’m normally a saint. I don’t drink or smoke. I work in social services (he’s a nurse in a pediatric hospital). And no sex on the first date.”
That’s all it takes to land the digits and the interest of “The French Kardashian,” the sexy and quirky French influencer Jennifer (Eloïse Valli).
But wouldn’t you know it, Rose has gone back to he jerk record-producer ex (Maxime Gasteuil) while all this is going on.
The makeover montages are generic in the extreme, the pop selected here ranges from a synth-loaded club mix of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?,” The Beach Boys “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” and Machiavel’s “Fly.”
The slapstick, what little there is of it, works. Jenni’s appetite for sex, seriously high-end cuisine and selfie’s is worth half a chuckle.
But “Friendzone” flatlines for long stretches as it meanders towards the classic rom-com finale.
Use it as colorful background noise or to brush up on your French dating slang, because that’s all it’s good for.
Rating: TV-MA, nudity, sexual situations
Cast: Mickaël Lumière, Manon Azem, Fadily Camara, Constance Arnoult, Eva Danino, Maxime Gasteuil and Eloïse Valli
Credits: Directed by Charles Van Tieghem, Stanislas Carré de Malberg and Charles Van Tieghem. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:28