Dark, twisted and a tad bizarre, the film adaptation of the French farce “Dear Mother” goes places no Hollywood production would dare.
Any movie whose entire later acts concern the efforts of her self-absorbed son, his wife and his veterinarian best friend to get a snapshot of that son’s 80 year-old mother’s vagina is going to be “out there,” and Laurent Lafitte‘s film is that.
This Around the World With Netflix production, the directing debut of star Lafitte (“Elle,” “Tell No One”), whom the credits make sure to remind us is a member of the legendary “Comedie francaise,” may be uneven and a little sluggish out of the gate, with some of the silly simply not translating or not coming across. But you will laugh, if only occasionally. There’s no denying that.
Lafitte plays Jean-Louis, an attorney in a brittle, “Do you still love me?” marriage with Valerie (Karin Viard) that leaves him unsatisfied and lost.
No, that transvestite hooker in the park who he bumps into, says “I don’t think that’s my…style” (in French with English subtitles) is no help.
Then something happens at the gym, on the exercise treadmill. He’s not seeing his pulse register there. His pal Michel (Vincent Macaigne), a veterinarian, wants to rush him to the hospital — after stumbling through his animal medical bag for something that will let him hear his friend’s heartbeat.
“You heart isn’t beatiing.”
“Is it SERIOUS?”
But Valerie, noting that her husband is ambulatory, thinks a visit to her “holistic guru and life coach,” Margaux (Nicole Garcia) is in order. Margaux SEES things, senses them.
“You life is in a python’s belly,” she says, getting to the “heart” of the matter. “How can the python throw you up?”
He’s got mommy issues, she figures. And to get his heart to beat again, he’s got to resolve those…and fetch Margaux a photo of Mom’s genitals. That entails a lot of kvetching, a lot of lies, trickery and begging. First and foremost, though, Jean-Louis has to visit the seemingly sweet little old lady (Hélène Vincent) he hasn’t seen or even talked to on the phone for four years.
Working from a script adapted by actor/playwright Sébastien Thiery from his own play, Lafitte swings and misses at more laughs than he should, considering the whole “Comedie francaise” connection. Jean-Louis keeps referring to his unhappy life as “a farce.” But farce’s are quick, and “Dear Mother” is not.
The set-ups for big laughs are laboriously spoiled by the slack pacing. But as the lies pile up and the veterinarian’s efforts to “just get a smear” from Brigitte, and she doesn’t fall for the “Neighbor’s Day” stunt (everybody walks around nude, hoping Mom will join on), well, we didn’t bring that Polaroid for nothing.
“I’ve always loved you, Brigitte.”
The unexpected laughs are what worked for me, though perhaps others will find more mirth in the droll, deadpan and not-quite-kinky set-ups — the dream sequences in which Jean-Louis imagines himself reeling in his mother by their shared umbilical cord, for instance.
Comedy is the most subjective genre, and to each her or his own. “Dear Mother” didn’t quite get there for me. But if you give it a try, you must stick with it through the credits. Polaroid snaps take a full minute to develop, remember?
Rating: TV-MA, sex, full frontal nudity, etc.
Cast: Laurent Lafitte, Karin Viard, Vincent Macaigne, Hélène Vincent and Nicole Garcia
Credits: Directed by Laurent Lafitte, scripted by Sébastien Thiery, based on his play. A StudioCanal film on Netflix.
Running time: 1:38