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A bunch of forty-something buddies find their dinner date transformed into a dinner disaster in What’s in a Name? (Le Prenom), an amusing and well-acted French farce in the pure tradition of boulevard classics Le Diner de cons and Le Pere Noel est une ordure. Adapting their highly successful stage version to the screen with keen comic-timing but much less cinematic panache, Mathieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelliere offer up a lively take on love, friendship and baby-naming that should titillate Francophone audiences and upscale offshore distributors.
Released on French screens opposite Marvel’s The Avengers, the Pathe title placed second on opening day and should continue scoring solid numbers during the annual pre-Cannes dearth of bankable Gallic fare. Certainly, the filmmakers – already a successful screenwriting duo (Renaissance, The Prodigies) – have taken little risks with their hit 2010 play, bringing back four of the five cast members and sticking to their guns by more or less confining the story to a single Parisian apartment.
After a Jean-Pierre Jeunet-style prologue introduces the players via quick vignettes, archive footage and a tongue-in-cheek voiceover, we land at the home of Sorbonne professor, Pierre (Charles Berling, the only non-member of the original cast) and his schoolteacher wife, Elisabeth (Valerie Benguigui) as they scramble to get dinner ready for their guests: Elizabeth’s brother, the suave real estate agent, Vincent (Patrick Bruel) and long-time friend and classical trombonist, Claude (Guillaume de Tonquedec).
Although the gang seems to hang out often, this particular soiree is the occasion for Vincent to announce the name of his upcoming baby to his sister and friends. Without giving it away – let’s just say that it wouldn’t make Elisabeth’s Jewish mother, Francoise (Francois Fabian), very proud – the name provokes an uproar among the group, and by the time Vincent’s pregnant gal, Anna (Judith El Zein) shows up, everyone’s panties are in a bundle.
The bickering continues as a series of shocking revelations boil to the surface, and soon enough blood is spilled, couscous is thrown and someone is accused of adultery. As in many such a farce inspired by the genre’s godfather, Georges Feydeau, the twists and quid pro quos ultimately force the various characters to face truths about themselves and one another, and nothing is ever quite as bad as it seems.
With plenty of rehearsal time on stage, the cast delivers all the zingers and insults with ease, and singer-actor Bruel (A Secret) is especially adept as the smooth-talking but vulnerable Vincent.
Cinematographer David Ungaro (Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky) does his best with such a limited setting, while the theatrical staging makes one long for a live performance instead of what’s essentially a slickly crafted piece of filmed theatre.
Opens: In France (April 25)
Production companies: Chapter 2, Pathe, TF1 Films Production, M6 Films, Fargo Films, Nexus Factory, UFilm
Cast: Patrick Bruel, Valerie Benguigui, Charles Berling, Judith El Zein, Guillaume de Tonquedec, Francoise Fabian
Directors: Mathieu Delaporte, Alexandre de la Patelliere
Screenwriters: Mathieu Delaporte, Alexandre de la Patelliere, based on their stage play
Producers: Dimitri Rassam, Jerome Seydoux
Director of photography: David Ungaro
Production designer: Marie Cheminal
Music: Jerome Rebotier
Costume designer: Anne Schotte
Editor: Celia Lafitedupont
International sales: Pathe International
No rating, 109 minutes
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