The story of a mother’s effort to find a stand-in for the father her son never knew gets jokey, passably appealing treatment in Monsieur Papa. The directorial debut of Kad Merad, who became a household name in France after co-starring in the smash 2008 comedy Welcome to the Sticks, knows how to milk emotion and comedy to achieve the desired heart-tugging results but shows little interest in getting inside its three main characters, and crucially the kid, who seems scarcely troubled at all, either by the lack of a father or the charade being perpetrated upon him. World premiered on closing day of the annual City of Lights City of Angels French film festival in Los Angeles, the picture is too bland and child-oriented to make it as an import but conceivably has American remake potential.
When her cute-as-can-be 12-year-old son Marius (Gaspard Meier-Chaurand) begins showing mild signs of pre-teen rebellion, high-powered industry CEO Marie Vallois (Michele Laroque) realizes she can’t further put off explaining why the boy doesn’t have a dad. But, chickening out yet again, she hires a local sad sack, the bald and bearded Robert (Merad), to impersonate the father long-said to be off living an Indiana Jones lifestyle with native tribes in far-flung lands.
The normal expectation would be for the poseur to try to rise to the occasion by entertaining the lad with made-up adventures and exciting tall tales. But Robert, an unemployed accountant type who now gets by ironing clothes for his neighbors and scarcely fits the profile of an adventurer, can’t even keep a conversation going with Marius, who rightly has his doubts about this guy from the beginning but eventually warms to him when the man introduces him to rugby.
Marie frets and doubts about the whole arrangement while also worrying about the lack of incoming business deals. But while the approach here aspires to a level of emotional seriousness a bit beyond that of sitcom, it falls short on the most fundamental level by never exploring what might really be going on in Marius’ mind and heart. Other than for a little mischief and purported academic slippage at the outset, he’d be considered a model of propriety and good disposition in anyone’s book; there’s never the slightest sign of angst, anger, longing or an emotional void in the kid, which almost entirely undercuts his mother’s elaborate and predictably unnecessary effort to cosset and protect him.
Merad’s work as a director is competent but hits mostly obvious notes and the actors veer toward the broad side.
SCREENWRITERS: Luc Chaumar, Emmanuelle Cosso, Anne Valton
PRODUCER: Richard Grandpierre
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Frederic Duniguian
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Regis Blondeau
EDITOR: Christophe Pinel