The Valet (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)

film_valet_smVeber's script is clever and sweet-natured, and he tricks you into thinking you're a step ahead of the film.





Watching The Valet is sort of like eating a creampuff. It's tasty as it goes in, but later in the day, you have trouble recalling those delicious morsels when you're feeling guilty about those excess calories. Certainly something from the patisserie would better suit this French farce in terms of analogy, but that would suggest a bit too much flavor than The Valet provides (and I'm never one for making such annoying cultural comparisons).


Writer-director Francis Veber has made quite a stamp on internationally successful French farces (trust me, plenty of banal French comedies come out each year, though few make it stateside). The Dinner Game and The Closet were lively, humorous comedies about a dinner event where a bunch of snobby folk play a game to see who can bring the dumbest dinner guest and a man who pretends to be gay to save his job, respectively. The Valet, like his other two films, finds an impossible situation and plays it for laughs. This time, a wealthy, married asshole (Daniel Auteuil) makes a deal with his supermodel mistress (Alice Taglioni) for her to pose as the love interest of a lowly porter (Gad Elmaleh) to avoid the impending scandal after a paparazzi photo catches the two of them together.

Through an improperly timed chain of events, the porter, François, accepts the offer, but only in order to retrieve the money that the girl of his dreams, Émilie (Virginie Ledoyen), owes to pay off her debt after opening a bookstore. As it turns out, the supermodel, Elena, really has a heart of gold and helps François to woo Émilie, all while keeping up the guise of a phony relationship. Veber's script is clever and sweet-natured, and he tricks you into thinking you're a step ahead of the film. Granted, a lot of obvious conclusions arise surrounding our central love affair, but Kristin Scott Thomas (an English actress who seems to have found a home in French cinema lately) as Auteuil's cunning wife adds a sinister spark to the film, outsmarting and showing up most of the rest of the two-dimensional characters that inhabit the screen. Whenever the film's sweetness becomes a bit too complacent and hard-to-take, Veber throws Scott Thomas in the mix for flavor's sake.

There's nothing wrong with a little divertissement now and then, and The Valet couldn't be seen as anything but. Whereas The Dinner Game was witty and satirical, The Valet is breezy and slight. Elmaleh is a charming lead, but believing that he's the hideous creature the rest of the characters make him out to be is a bit hard to swallow. A little suspension of reality is necessary when walking into the film; I mean, are we really supposed to believe that the top supermodel in Europe had a heart of gold and knows how to do dishes? I guess that's about as credible as a girl like that dating the snobbish, disagreeable Auteil (who's actually quite bad here). Somehow I doubt credibility was what Veber had in mind here, but if a fine 85-minute time-waster was what he was thinking, he certainly succeeded. | Joe Bowman

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