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Another high-concept, lowbrow comedy from one of France’s biggest box-office draws, Penny Pincher! (Radin!) is as subtle and provocative as its title sounds, exclamation point included.
Starring Dany Boon (Welcome to the Sticks, the most successful French film of all time in domestic release) and directed by action helmer Fred Cavaye (Anything for Her, remade as The Next Three Days), this one-trick pony — about a pathologically cheap Frenchie whose miserly ways are upended by the introduction of two women into his life — gets in a few good gags during the opening reels before heading to the most predictable and clichéd places imaginable. Still, compared to Boon’s last effort (the woeful Superchondriaque), this one has a better setup and doesn’t completely overstay its welcome, which should translate to solid numbers in local theaters and sizeable audiences for the small screen.
Boon likes to make comedies whose plots can be written out on tiny cocktail napkins, and this one — penned by Cavaye, Laurent Turner and Nicolas Cuche, from an original idea by Olivier Dazat — is as simple as it gets: Forty-something Francois Gautier (Boon) is an accomplished violinist and music teacher with one fatal flaw, which is that he’s a … penny pincher!
The reason for this is illustrated in a half-baked opening sequence featuring Gautier’s parents, though thankfully the film settles down after that to provide a handful of decent laughs as we follow the man through his tragically cheapskate existence. This involves bringing his own calculator to the supermarket to add up his coupon discounts, keeping the lights off at home to avoid high electrical bills, having his banker (Patrick Ridremont) double as a free therapist and doing everything imaginable not to contribute a dime to a fellow musician’s retirement gift fund.
Cavaye and Boon get some mileage out of all the exposition scenes, culminating in a rather hilarious dinner date between Gautier and his orchestra’s new cellist, Valerie (Laurence Arne) — a woman who is so enthralled by her paramour’s violin playing that she largely ignores the fact that he’s a … penny pincher! Along with his newfound love interest, Gautier must also contend with the arrival of a previously unknown daughter, Laura (Noemie Schmidt), who shows up on his doorstep one day for mysterious reasons. (A flashback explains that Laura was conceived when a younger Gautier had sex with an expired condom in order to save yet more money.)
As anyone can guess, Valerie and Laura will gradually lead Gautier to change his low-cost ways, though the third-act twist that makes it all happen is one of the easiest, lamest screenwriting tools in the book. And whereas the filmmakers could’ve used the final reels to wring a few more laughs from their material, they resort instead to pure sentimental fluff, with Klaus Badelt (Queen of the Desert) adding an accordingly sappy score.
Cavaye is no Moliere or Dickens — both masters at depicting human avarice — but he does bring a certain pictorial finesse to the proceedings, especially in sequences that DP Laurent Dailland (Daddy or Mommy) allows to play out in the dark instead of the usual overlit look of French farces. Together, the director and Boon make for a slightly better match than Boon does with himself on the overlong features he’s made, although this one ultimately runs out of comic steam about midway through. If only these penny pinchers (!) invested more in the jokes.
Production companies: Jerico, TF1 Films Production, Mars Films
Cast: Dany Boon, Laurence Arne, Noemie Schmidt, Patrick Ridremont
Director: Fred Cavaye
Screenwriters: Fred Cavaye, Laurent Turner, Nicolas Cuche, based on an original idea by Olivier Dazat
Producers: Eric Jehelmann, Philippe Rousselet
Director of photography: Laurent Dailland
Production designer: Laurence Brenguier
Costume designer: Marie-Laure Lasson
Editor: Yann Malcor
Composer: Klaus Badelt
Casting director: Michael Languens
Sales: TF1 International
Not rated, 89 minutes
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