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PARIS — Three brothers in their 40s find themselves opening up about their infidelities around the bed of their comatose mother in The Big Bad Wolf, a French remake of the French-Canadian hit dramedy The 3 Little Pigs.
French-language comedy heavyweights Benoit Poelvoorde (probably most famous stateside for his more serious turn in Coco Before Chanel); Kad Merad, who headlined Dany Boon‘s box-office phenomenon Welcome to the Sticks, and comedian Fred Testot, whose TV sketches with The Intouchables star Omar Sy (as Omar and Fred) were extremely popular, are well-cast as siblings who have to deal with the temptation of adultery as their marriages have gone from sexy to stale.
But even though this Versailles-set update, directed and written by the duo Nicolas & Bruno (Me Two), features some serious material, Wolf has a tendency to foreground its French-style comedy — and not all of it very funny. This, in contrast to its predecessor, which was penned by Claude Lalonde and Pierre Lamothe and directed by actor-turned-director Patrick Huard (the lead of Starbuck) and which dared to mordantly explore some of the darker recesses of the male-chauvinist mind.
The big-name cast should ensure a decent enough opening and solid small-screen sales both locally and in Franco-friendly territories, though it’ll struggle to replicate the success of its Quebec-set predecessor on a French scale.
The fact that their comatose mother (Marie-Christine Barrault) is close to death generates two almost diametrically opposed feelings in brothers Philippe (Poelvoorde), Louis (Merad) and Henri (Testot): Family ties and their own families seem to be more important than ever, but the urge to cut loose and live a little before it’s too late is equally strong.
Louis is the eldest, most stable and morally upright of the bunch, though his life with his wife (Zabou Breitman) and almost adult children in his comfortable suburban home is mostly boring and safe. His tendency to lecture his younger brothers annoys both middle sibling Philippe, who’s married to the sweet but not exactly wild mother of his two daughters, Nathalie (Valerie Donzelli), and youngest brother, Henri, a martial-arts teacher who got married too early to the domineering and overly organized cop, Patricia (Lea Drucker).
Philippe, who works at the Château de Versailles, is the first to fall for a younger bombshell, Natacha (former weather girl Charlotte Le Bon), who poses as a German colleague with whom he works “long night shifts” at the Château (cue some eye candy and rather facile visual homages to Godard and Fellini as well as a snarky back-handed compliment to revered contemporary auteur Arnaud Desplechin).
Excited by Philippe’s stories of Natacha’s “ergonomic body” and their uncomplicated extramarital acrobatics, Henri, who’s had sex with his wife just a handful of times since they got married, lets himself be tempted into an affair with a woman (Linh-dan Pham) he meets — irony of ironies — at a couples counseling session.
The directors deftly switch back and forth between the different strands and let each brother comment in voice-over (like in the original, though not as effective and enlightening here). All of them also ask Mom for advice, which she supplies in scenes that makes it clear each sibling is really talking to his own conscience. But there’s rarely a sense that there’s more at stake than being discovered by their other halves, with their midlife crises more of an excuse for chuckle-inducing antics than the source of some serious soul-searching.
The directors prefer to let most of the scenes play out in widescreen shots in which several actors interact, which helps suggest the characters’ bonds and showcases the actors’ chemistry. The entire ensemble is solid in both the dramatic and comedic scenes, with the notable exception of the severely underwritten Natacha, who’s mostly reduced to smiling like an idiot, albeit a beautiful one.
Production companies: Mandarin Cinema, Mars Films, TF1 Films Production, M6 Films, Scope Pictures
Cast: Benoit Poelvoorde, Kad Merad, Fred Testot, Valerie Donzelli, Charlotte Le Bon, Zabou Breitman, Cristiana Reali, Lea Drucker, Linh-dan Pham, Denis Podalydes
Directors-screenwriters: Nicolas & Bruno, screenplay based on the film Les 3 P’tits Cochons by Claude Lalonde, Pierre Lamothe
Producers: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
Director of photography: Laurent Dailland
Production designer: Laurent Tesseyre
Music: Eric Neveux
Costume designer: Charlotte David
Editor: Reynald Bertrand
Sales: Other Angle Pictures
No rating, 107 minutes
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