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Vet comic star Valerie Lemercier (Avenue Montaigne) offers up another look at petty Parisians and their f’d up family manners in The Ultimate Accessory (100% Cachemire), an outré adoption comedy that’s as poorly put together as it is mean-spirited and even offensive.
Featuring what may be the most unlikable couple ever seen in a rom-com, this tale of a fashion editor and art dealer who take in an orphaned Russian boy, only to treat him like another piece of designer furniture, could have been a purely subversive family farce — and a fun rejoinder to the kind of idealistic French parenting described in Pamela Druckerman’s bestseller, Bringing Up Bébé — had Lemercier not attempted to redeem all her characters in a totally implausible third act. The result is thus both cruel and contrived, revealing how even the worst behavior can be rewarded by the time Santa rolls around.
While the director’s last feature, 2005’s aristocratic comedy Palais Royal!, wound up raking in over 2.5 million admissions at the Gallic box office, The Ultimate Accessory looks to do less business, with poor reviews and word-of-mouth relegating it to a healthy afterlife on TV. Overseas action will be limited to Francophone slots, with the film’s only-in-France scenario hard to adapt elsewhere.
Aleksandra (Lemercier) is the snobby head honcho at Elle magazine, and has little room in her life for anything beyond her dog, her shoe collection and an occasional tryst with a smart aleck novelist (played by filmmaker Bruno Podalydes). Her lack of empathy also extends to her long-time boyfriend, Cyrille (Gilles Lellouche), a gallery owner who’s been all but neutered by his domineering Jewish mother (Nanou Garcia), and who spends as little time at home as possible.
For what reasons this unloving couple decides to adopt a child is anyone’s guess, but the boy eventually shows up in the form of Aleksei (Samatin Pendev), a 7-year-old Russian orphan with a permanent scowl and penchant for wreaking havoc on the couple’s fashionable Left Bank apartment. Lemercier tries as she can to wring laughs out of these early scenes, but comes up short nearly every time, dishing out jokes that either viciously mock all the movie’s working-class side characters (a secretary, a nanny, a social worker) or else stoop to overblown, Benny Hill-style physical gags (throwing food and dishes, falling into the seal tank at the zoo).
Even more problematic is how Aleksandra and Cyrille tend to regard Aleksei as a hood ornament, showing little concern for his welfare or happiness, especially when he gets in the way of their jetsetter lifestyle. Yet when an apparent mix-up in the adoption process has the kid expedited to another family, Lemercier attempts to shift our sentiments in the couple’s favor, revealing Aleksandra’s sob-worthy backstory while trying to show how these despicable Parisians are really good people after all.
But it’s clearly too little, too late, and the film’s dubious final act, which is meant to salvage both the characters and the narrative, only drives it further into the ground. And while The Ultimate Accessory could have played as a nasty satire on modern-day social mores, especially in places like Paris’ luxurious 7th arrondissement, it winds up celebrating the very milieu it’s meant to mock.
Both behind and in front of the camera, Lemercier has seen better days, though she seems to take some pleasure in playing a bitchy fashionista like Aleksandra, giving herself the script’s handful of good lines. Action star Lellouche (Point Blank, Gibraltar) looks completely lost as a man with very little to show for himself, lest it be the ridiculous apron he wears during a lame sight gag that’s repeated twice over. Newcomer Pendev is quite convincing as the couple’s evil immigrant child, whose piercing frown can seem nearly supernatural at times. Where’s Damien when you need him?
Production companies: Rectangle Productions, Wild Bunch, De L’huile, France 2 Cinema, M6 Films, Scope Pictures
Cast: Valerie Lemercier, Gilles Lellouche, Marina Fois, Samatin Pendev, Nanou Garcia
Director, screenwriter: Valerie Lermercier
Producer: Edouard Weil
Director of photography: Denis Lenoir
Production designer: Francoise Dupertuis
Costume designer: Catherine Leterrier
Editor: Celia Lafitedupont
Sales agent: Wild Bunch
No rating, 101 minutes
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