Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
C’EST LA VIE (LE SENS DE LA FÊTE)
Not Rated, 115 minutes
Directed by: Olivier Nakache, Éric Toledano
Starring: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Jean-Paul Rouve, Gilles Lellouche, Vincent Macaigne, Eye Haidara, Suzanne Clément, Alban Ivanov, Hélène Vincent, Judith Chemla, Benjamin Lavernhe
Weddings are a popular setting for comedic shenanigans. The best laid plans can easily turn into hijinks and hilarity, both in real life and on screen. Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano’s C’EST LA VIE sets the stage for tomfoolery on one couple’s big day through the eyes of the people staffing the lavish affair. It’s almost as if Armando Iannucci wrote a feature-length episode of PARTY DOWN crossed with THE WEDDING PLANNER – but not quite as interesting as that. Still, its aim is admirable, and it’s good for a genuine chuckle every now and then.
Max (Jean-Pierre Bacri) is a wedding caterer who doesn’t particularly love listening to his clients. He’s got a keen nose for weeding out those who can’t afford his innovative parties. However, that does open him up to being subjected to wealthy, demanding and insufferable clients like groomzilla Pierre (Benjamin Lavernhe). He and his bride Héléna (Judith Chemla) are having their wedding reception in an 18th century chateau outside of Paris. Everything must be perfect. But the staff, try as they might, just can’t get their acts together. A long night is ahead for everyone.
Nakache and Toledano (who directed the flawless THE INTOUCHABLES) play with the universal problems that threaten many weddings: An overbearing mother in the wedding party! A wedding singer getting unsolicited requests by the guests! The threat of blowing out the power! While these things are funny, and provoke a dry amusement from the audience, they aren’t handled in any unexpected way. There are a few genuinely hilarious moments – like when loveably dim-witted Samy (Alban Ivanov) dances in period costume to “Girl From Ipanema,” or Julien (Vincent Macaigne) scrambles to carry on a charade to impress Héléna. A running bit about Pierre’s disgust of twirling napkins provides delightfully antagonistic, sarcastic barbs from band leader James (Gilles Lellouche). Composer Avishai Cohen wisely takes a page from BIRDMAN’s score, sonically representing the ensuing chaos as percussive jazz. With exception of the sublime montage that morphs from Max seeing his employees enjoying themselves to a panicked premonition of everything going wrong, the rest of the stresses Max and his employees face are taxing to the audience.
A lot of what should be uproarious and zany just doesn’t work at all, as the connective tissue tying the too-huge ensemble together isn’t there. Title cards exclaiming the time stamps on the events don’t add much to the heightening drama. The segment featuring the moon balloon display of disgusting wealth and eccentricity is too long. Max is having problems with his love life, juggling his soon-to-be-ex-wife Nicole and girlfriend/ employee Josiane (Suzanne Clément), but it’s forgotten for a large part of the film. The tempestuous romance between James and second-in-charge Adèle (Eye Haidara) also proves flimsy.
But the audience’s credulity will be greatly tested by anything dealing with photographer Guy (Jean-Paul Rouve). For a guy that laments he can’t get hired by anyone but Max, he sure does a lot to tank his career: He wears sloppy clothes. He fails to blend into the crowd whilst on the job. He eats the guests’ food when he’s supposed to be working. And when he is working, he’s snapping at the guests snapping photos on their smartphones. How has this guy not been fired?! The worst is when, at the end of the evening, he and Max have a heart-to-heart about why he’s not getting jobs. Max floats that it’s not because Guy is wildly unprofessional, but because his craftsmanship and skillset is no longer needed in the world of weddings – something that would never be the case in any world.
Overall, with minimal characters to engage the audience, and pacing issues that a twenty-minute trim might solve, this wedding isn’t quite one to remember.
C’EST LA VIE (LE SENS DE LA FÊTE ) played COLCOA on April 28.