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
NUMBER ONE FAN (ELLE L’ADORE) | 104 min | Unrated
Directed by: Jeanne Herry
Starring: Sandrine Kiberlain, Laurent Lafitte, Pascal Demolon, Olivia Côte, Lou Lesage, Nicolas Bridet, Benjamin Lavernhe, Muriel Mayette
Fandom – it’s a curious thing. While most fans are respectful, some can take their overwhelming urges to impress their idols way too far. Actress-turned-writer-director Jeanne Herry’s NUMBER ONE FAN explores the boundaries of fandom. While the comedy-thriller’s concept is pleasantly preposterous, Herry fails spectacularly to nail the inherent comedy of the situations, which maddeningly come across as internalized misogyny over all else.
Esthetician Muriel Bayen (Sandrine Kiberlain) is a divorced mother of two with a passion for telling tall tales who’s nursing an obsession for pop superstar Vincent Lacroix (Laurent Lafitte). At least we assume he sings pop songs, as we never actually hear any of his music. Thanks to the bodyguards backstage and a team of dutiful assistants around the superstar, the pair appear destined to never meet face-to-face. But when an accidental blow (by one of his awards, no less) to the head of Vincent’s girlfriend Julie (Lou Lesage) renders her dead and him in a heap of trouble, Vincent calls upon Muriel, his number one fan, to dispose of the body. Only things don’t quite go according to plan when she botches the mission and is discovered by detectives Antoine (Pascal Demolon) and Coline (Olivia Côte). What ensues showcases a sad sycophantic relationship with a sociopath – and that hurts my feminism.
While I’m sure the filmmakers’ intent was to make a deeply intellectual film about the blurred lines between self-love and selfless adoration, or maybe even satirize and skewer patriarchal society, they botched it. Herry, along with co-writer Gaëlle Macé, appear to have a hatred of all their female characters: they’re either shrews like Julie, who destroys Vincent’s bedroom after he ignores her during his poker game, or sluts like Coline, who’s referred to by her boyfriend/ co-worker Antoine as a “nympho” and then later sleeps with another co-worker (Nicolas Bridet, who I call “France’s Bradley Cooper”). Or they’re sycophantic dummies like Muriel. It’s not even that she’s the traditional trope of unapologetically unlikable – like, for instance, Rosamund Pike’s character in GONE GIRL, Charlize Theron’s character in YOUNG ADULT, or Cameron Diaz’s character in BAD TEACHER. Kiberlain’s character is detestable because she’s completely unbelievable and poorly drawn. Not only that, her desperation is a turn-off. We never see her exhibit any kind of break with her reality; she still holds a job and is able to see her kids. She’s not Vincent’s stalker and isn’t totally loony – she’s just got a case of arrested development, decorating her room and locker as a teenage girl would. Fandom aside, it’s more than a little unbelievable that she’d go through all this to help her number one crush get away with murder.
Maybe Herry could have covered this up better had she instructed her players – specifically Kiberlain (who’s a genuinely wonderful and gifted actress; see 9 MONTH STRETCH as proof) and Lafitte (a member of the prestigious “Comédie Française” troupe) – to go broader with the material. Benjamin Lavernhe, who plays Vincent’s nephew/ assistant, and Muriel Mayette, who plays Vincent’s housekeeper Arlette, are both also from “Comédie Française,” though you’d never know given Herry’s non-utilization of their skills. Had the material been given a comedy polish, authentic laughs would spring forth easily from the dark scenarios. Plus, there are no thrills and zero suspense.
Worst of all, the film puts men in the power position. Is this a commentary on patriarchal society’s crucifying of women? Possibly, but given how superficial the screenplay feels, I’m not so sure. Arlette begs Vincent to tell her what to say to the cops – where she promptly slaughters Julie’s character. Women tearing other women down for the sake of a man isn’t appealing. There’s no tangible comeuppance and Vincent is never really eyeballed as the person of interest – neither by the investigators nor the tabloids, which is simply astounding.
AmI wrong in slapping a “misogynist” label on this movie? Though it never explores the boundaries of gender dynamics, it is pretty horrible to everyone. That would make this sexist garbage. What would be the reason to watch? Unfortunately, there isn’t one – and I can say that definitively.
1 out of 5
NUMBER ONE FAN (ELLE L’ADORE) plays ColCoa on April 25. Distrib Films will release the film in the US. For more info, go here.