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PARIS — Quick pop quiz: Who was the fifth YouTube star, after Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Eminem and Rihanna, to reach 1 billion views? If you said thirty-something Montpellier slacker/prankster Remi Gaillard, you’re correct!
It was thus inevitable that this crazy French Internet sensation would end up on the big screen, especially because he’s famous for his Jackass-like stunts and assorted acts of silliness, which are cheap to produce and tend to do well at the box office (incidentally, it’s possible to even score an Oscar nomination for best makeup along the way). However, director Raphael Frydman and Gaillard’s excuse for a narrative is really only filler material that bridges the gap between one funny/painful/stupid gag and the next, with the whole philosophy of their appropriately titled feature WTF (N’importe qui) based on the fatuous idea that, in order to “become anyone, you should really do anything” (this sounds better, if not more logical, in French).
Despite having reached more than 1.6 billion views and amassed almost 6 million Facebook fans, Gaillard’s film opened on the soft side with an admittedly only semi-wide release of just over 200 prints. However, sales agent Wild Bunch already sold the feature to quite a few foreign territories, where practically nothing of Gaillard and his antics risk being lost in translation.
The film opens with a montage of several gags that establish the silly man’s m.o. for those unfamiliar with the existence of the Internet and/or puerile pranks: Gaillard basically tries to get people to angrily run after him by doing something silly and provocative, often wearing a costume that’s somehow related to the mischief he’s about to unleash. Thus he steals golf course flagsticks dressed as an astronaut ready to plant a flag on the moon, dumps enormous quantities of shit onto unsuspecting cars from an overpass dressed as a huge bird or tries to hitch a quick ride dressed as a cartoonesque bank robber, complete with fake automatic weapon.
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Frydman, who’s credited for the screenplay if none of the countless gags that are not so much integrated as simply sprinkled throughout the film, invents a rather lame and not very consistent story that involves Remi and his girlfriend, Sandra (Nicole Ferroni), who finally wants the bum to act his age or she’ll leave. His Internet success has also gone to his head, with his posse of friends and collaborators (they film the gags and help him with the costumes, etc.) abandoning him around the same time, with the exception of Greg (Franc Bruneau), the geeky head of the Gaillard fan club (think Harry Knowles, version francaise).
A year later, he’s bettered his life, but he misses his pranks. When he visits his former buddy Gerald (Sylvain Katan), who’s become a wedding videographer in the meantime, at work, his instincts get the better of him and Remi crashes the wedding cake made out of profiteroles dressed as a gigantic inflatable penis (of course, everyone always carries a gigantic inflatable penis with them in case their instincts should want to get the better of them on any given day).
Audiences will either think this is hilarious or will remain entirely indifferent, though even for Gaillard fans, the film will become too repetitive very quickly. What makes his short videos on YouTube so popular is that they require the attention span and sense of humor of a 2-year-old — but feature films don’t work according to the same logic. WTF simply contains too many pranks that are too similar, as the gag with the bird shit is repeated ad nauseam in different avian getups and there’s also a variation with water in which he’s dressed as an elephant. Frydman tries to bring the craziness into the narrative filler scenes as well, like when Sandra gives birth to a latex doll, but all that this accomplishes it that it makes it even harder to take the whole enterprise seriously on any level; one assumes that the unsuspicious passersby are not in on the jokes perpetrated on them but if women can give birth to baby dolls outside of a gag/prank context, then clearly no universal laws seem to apply to anything.
Equally problematic is that there’s occasionally an undercurrent of cruelty that might stifle an initial snigger, such as when Gaillard goes after unsuspecting people at a car wash or tries to pick up a hitchhiker pretending to be a serial killer, with his car and clothes dripping in blood. Of course they run for their lives. That’s a shame, as some of the more harmless jokes have an almost Jacques Tati-esque quality to them, such as when Montpellier traffic is thrown into chaos when men dressed in green cross a pedestrian crossing on green and men dressed in red do the same as soon as the light turns red, making it impossible for any car to ever pass.
Footage quality of the actual stunts and gags varies, while the narrative proper looks fine. Musical choices are poppy if occasionally a bit on-the-nose, while the current edit really starts to drag about halfway in.
Opens: March 5 (in France)
Production companies: Why Not Productions, Film Form, Actes Proletariens
Cast: Remi Gaillard, Nicole Ferroni, Franc Bruneau, Alban Ivanov, Sylvain Katan, Quentin Jodar, Gregory Nardella, Patrick Raynal, Brigitte Moati
Director: Raphael Frydman
Screenwriter: Raphael Frydman, with sketches by Remi Gaillard
Producer: Jean-Francois Richet
Director of photography: Gilles Piquard
Production designers: Anna Brun, Yannick Isoard
Costume designer: Mahemiti Deregnaucourt
Editor: Samuel Danesi
Sales: Wild Bunch
No rating, 81 minutes
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