C’EST LA VIE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano

Stars: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Gilles Lellouche, Eye Haidara, Jean-Paul Rouve, Benjamin Lavernhe, Judith Chemla, Vincent Macaigne, Suzanne Clement.

A Gallic The Wedding Planner?

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Max Angeley (played by Jean-Pierre Bacri, from Look At Me, etc) is a veteran wedding planner and caterer who offers first rate service and lavish affairs for couples. But after thirty years he wants to get out of the business. After a couple of decades, he now lacks tolerance for couples who want to compromise on the services and cut costs. His final wedding though is going to be an elaborate affair to celebrate the nuptials of the stuffy and egotistical Pierre (Benjamin Lavernhe, from The Odyssey, etc) and Helene (Judith Chemla, from Camille Rewinds, etc). The reception is to take place in the grounds of a fabulous 17th century castle, and will feature a live DJ, dancing, a gourmet menu, fireworks, and even an acrobatic display featuring a balloon. The wait staff are all dressed in 17th century costumes to add to the atmosphere.

But on the night, the professional DJ is replaced by James (Gilles Lellouche, from Tell No One, etc), a self-centred second-rate entertainer; Max’s assistant Adele (Eye Haidara) keeps getting into heated arguments with James and takes her eye off the ball; photographer Guy (Jean-Paul Rouve, from La Vie En Rose, etc) is a selfish free loader with a  roving eye for the ladies. And as the cantankerous Max is in the process of selling his business he wants everything to go smoothly, but instead he has to deal with personality clashes, spoiled food, bruised egos, and his eccentric, demanding and incompetent staff. The recipe is set for chaos as this supposedly happy event begins to go off the rails.

C’est La Vie (aka Le Sens de la Fete, a much more appropriate title) is the new ensemble comedy from the writing and directing pair of Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, who gave us the wonderful and entertaining The Intouchables in 2011. There is some sumptuous cinematography from David Chizallet (Mustang, etc), some superb costumes from Isabella Pannetier (who worked with the pair on The Intouchables), and the production design from Nicolas de Boiscuille and Cedric Henry (who collaborated with the filmmakers on their 2014 drama Samba) is exquisite. These technical contributions make the film look good. Not surprisingly, the film was nominated for 10 Cesar awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars, but it went home empty handed.

C’est La Vie deals with big themes and touches on contemporary topics such as the refugee issue, the problems of running a small business, and the multicultural nature of modern France. But this is an unevenly paced, overly long and sprawling comedy of errors full of flawed characters and set pieces that more often than not fall flat. Much of the humour seems forced, and some of the verbal humour gets lost in translation, and the film ultimately is not that funny or engaging.

A game cast try to keep the energy level going for the duration. They are led by the prickly charm of Bacri, who brings a sly humour and deadpan style to his increasingly flustered Max who has to put out one spot fire after another.

Unfortunately, this French farce, which takes us behind the scenes of an elaborate wedding, is a bit of a disappointment and is nowhere near the entertaining crowd-pleaser that The Intouchables was. It also falls flat when compared to Robert Altman’s similarly sprawling multi-character driven star-studded ensemble piece A Wedding from 1978.

★★☆

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