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A French bum with a girlfriend and a straight Moroccan student in France whose student visa has been revoked decide to do Chuck and Larry one better in the local mainstream comedy, Marry Me, Dude (Epouse-moi, mon pote). Playing the student is French actor Tarek Boudali, who also makes his debut as a director and who co-penned the well-plotted but by no means cliché-free screenplay. As his impromptu husband, Boudali has cast the manically energetic Philippe Lacheau, with whom he is part of the Bande a Fifi comedy troupe, which is behind such box-office hits as the Babysitting films and local hit phenomenon Alibi.com, which scored over 3.5 million admissions earlier this year (titles are generally considered hits when they reach 1 million admissions).
Like those films, Marry Me, Dude is the sort of lowest-common-denominator comedy that French audiences seem to love perhaps against their better judgment. Though unlikely to be the Bande’s biggest success — also because it has been accused of homophobia by a few critics in the French press — this will nonetheless do decent numbers locally, where it opened Oct. 25.
Yassine (Boudali) is an architecture student from Morocco whose entire family has made enormous sacrifices for him to study in Paris. But when he stupidly gets drunk — nothing much is made of the fact this is haram — the night before his big exam, the fact he is a no-show leads to his visa being revoked. To make matters worse, he stands up the Rubenesque fellow student he was getting along with so well, Claire (French Youtube star Andy), out of pure shame.
Enter Yassine’s unlikely local bestie, Fred (Lacheau), a blond deadbeat without a job and no idea what to do with his life, though he does know he’s not much interested in marrying his girlfriend, Lisa (Charlotte Gabris, also from the Babysitting films). When the two buddies finally get married so Yassine doesn’t have to leave France and face his family back home, Lisa is obviously not amused. Things then take a turn for the worse when the state official Dussart (Philippe Duquesne, another troupe regular) starts following the couple to ascertain they haven’t contracted a sham marriage. He even goes as far as installing himself in the home of a blind neighbor (Julien Arruti, the troupe’s third musketeer) to spy on the newlyweds, creating comic situations that are funny but frequently not very original.
Boudali wrote the story and general plot outline before co-writers Nadia Lakhdar, Khaled Amara and Pierre Dudan helped flesh out the details. The writer-director’s narrative is solidly constructed, with Boudali navigating a host of twists and turns involving a large cast of supporting characters like a pro. They include several duos that oppose the fake grooms: Claire and Lisa, the sidelined girlfriends; Dussart and Yassine’s mother (Baya Belal), who unexpectedly turn up for visits at Yassine’s increasingly fabulously decorated apartment, and Stan (David Marsais) and Daoud (Doudou Masta), a chic Frenchie and a rough banlieue dweller who are both ruthless in their working environments — as well as (spoiler ahead) gay in real life.
Several critics in France took offense at the depiction of gays both real and impersonated, with jokes about phallic objects, the way same-sex male partners can come to resemble one another or the inclusion of over-the-top outfits (any kind of mannerisms are thankfully kept to a minimum). But for this critic’s money, most — if certainly not all — of the jokes stem from Yassine and Fred’s ignorance of the gay world, overdoing their straight impression of what they, as not entirely woke blokes, think it means to be gay. What is the source of most of the humor thus isn’t how queer men supposedly look or act but rather how oblivious straight men have no clue about the finally very similar lives and ways of their gay fellow men. It is true the characters of Stan and Daoud could have been developed more to emphasize this point or perhaps a stereotype-free gay character could have been added for purely didactic purposes. But mainstream comedies in general and the French variety in particular often use clichés as comedic shorthand, and this film is no different. Boudali also has an ace up his sleeve in the film’s third act, which, though again not fully developed, does finally help to underline the material’s can’t-we-just-all-get-along message and the fact gays come in all sorts of shapes and forms.
The film’s semi-blinkered views are certainly not limited to sexual orientation, as Yassine and his family’s Moroccan background isn’t portrayed in any realistic sense either. Almost all of the Moroccan characters speak to each other in French rather than Darija Arabic, for example, and Boudali exploits the country for its exotic backdrops and wedding rituals but conspicuously never once mentions any religious issues or objections.
Though clearly too old to be a university student, the 37-year-old Boudali is both convincingly affable and uptight as Yassine. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he has great chemistry with Lacheau, whose character is an unlikely friend for Yassine — why would a studious foreigner hang out with a local without any clearly defined ideas for his future? — and who is occasionally and amusingly dumb but finally also someone who grows and learns. In the ranks of the supporting players, the troupe’s regulars, Duquesne and Arruti, are the standouts in France, while Fatsah Bouyahmed’s few scenes as a Moroccan bureaucrat alone are almost worth the price of admission.
Like most French comedies, Marry Me, Dude looks fine on the big screen, even if it lacks any kind of audiovisual wow factor.
Production companies: Axel Films Production, Studiocanal, M6
Cast: Tarek Boudali, Philippe Lacheau, Charlotte Gabris, Andy, David Marsais, Julien Arruti, Baya Belal, Philippe Duquesne, Zinedine Soualem, Doudou Masta, Yves Pignot, Fatsah Bouyahmed, Ramzy
Director: Tarek Boudali
Screenplay: Tarek Boudali, Nadia Lakhdar, Khaled Amara, Pierre Dudan
Producers: Christophe Cervoni, Marc Fiszman
Director of photography: Antoine Marteau
Production designer: Samuel Teisseire
Costume designer: Aurore Pierre
Editor: Antoine Vareille
Music: Maxime Desprez, Michael Tordjman
Casting: Joanna Delon
Venue: Kinepolis Luxembourg
In French, Darija
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