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A 19-year-old son believes he should be the only man in the life of his overprotective mother in Lolo, a high-concept comedy that’s French actress-director Julie Delpy’s most winningly mainstream concoction yet. Delpy herself stars as the uber-Parisian, hypochondriac mother, with French comedy heavyweight Dany Boon playing the provincial IT specialist who seems to have what it takes to be the new man in her life. Meanwhile, rubber-faced rising star Vincent Lacoste is her insidious offspring, who will go to any length to make sure he remains momma’s only love. Lolo has a solid laughs-per-minute rate and enough twists to overcome the occasional screenplay hiccup. Thanks to her collaboration with Richard Linklater on the Before films and bilingual directorial outings such as 2 Days in New York, Delpy — give or take a Luc Besson — has always been one of the most American of French filmmakers. And this U.S.-style crowdpleaser could very well become her biggest hit at home, with solid chances offshore in all places where French comedies are appreciated.
“I’m not very objective, but my son represents the future of mankind,” explains Violette (Delpy) to her new beau, Jean-Rene (Boon). Given that Violette refers to Eloi (Lacoste) either by his nickname, Lolo, or as “my little boy,” Jean-Rene is led to believe she’s the mother of a boy barely out of diapers. But nothing could be further from the truth, as Lolo is almost 20. But in a neat twist, costume designer Pierre-Yves Gayraud has him almost constantly walking around in colorful briefs as if he were still a child — though clearly one that owns the place.
A busy producer of fashion events in Paris, Violette hasn’t been in a serious relationship since Lolo’s father left. But what started as a dare with Violette’s cheerfully vulgar best friend and fellow unattached forty-something, Ariane (Karin Viard), has has led Violette to fall in love with Jean-Rene, a somewhat folksy but lovable computer programmer from the classy Basque seaside town of Biarritz. (It is one of the film’s many chuckle-inducing insights that for a true Parisian such as Violette, anything outside of Paris is automatically provincial.)
For those familiar with Delpy’s lighter directorial efforts, such the sprawling family tale Skylab (which saw the multihyphenate’s first collaboration with both Lacoste and Viard) and the slightly more compact New York and Paris versions of her 2 Days series, the occasionally hilarious and sometimes sexually frank dialogue will be familiar, as will her undeniable talent to take seemingly normal situations and almost imperceptibly morph them into something comically grotesque that nonetheless remains recognizable.
What’s different is that, for once, this talent is not just applied to a meandering story about love, sex and relationships but to a story with a strong narrative conceit at its center, which here involves a son who refuses to let his mother date anyone — though, in proper comedy fashion, she’s unaware this is the case for most of the film’s running time. This gives the entire film a stronger backbone and channels Delpy’s usual eye for character development and relationships into a setup with more classical foundations (with an introduction, development, discovery and resolution), which reinforces not only the story but, interestingly, also the characters, since their needs and desires are more clearly legible at every stage.
Delpy has written herself another unglamorous, warts-and-all and oh-so recognizable role as a woman struggling to keep it together while trying to balance motherhood, a career and a new romance. Her neurotic and hypochondriac sides ring true and are good for plenty of laughs, especially when Violette stresses out and starts behaving in extreme ways, such as in leaving a barrage of increasingly insecure text messages (enumerated on-screen) when Jean-Rene doesn’t answer the phone after she’s unintentionally stood him up. Suffice to say it doesn’t even end with: “You must be dead now, right?”
This is reportedly the first time that Boon, himself an actor-director of such box-office phenomena as Welcome to the Sticks and Nothing to Declare, has appeared as an actor in the film of another actor-writer-director, and he thrives in his role as the straight foil to Delpy’s neurotic Parisian, trying his darndest to make a good impression on both her and her seemingly very cordial son. Thankfully, he keeps the Boonian antics to a minimum, though a little of it does creep in during a fashion-scene party sequence in which Lolo has spiked his drink and he ends up spazzing while taking a selfie with Karl Lagerfeld (the latter’s cameo, however, is also the inspiration for what must amount to one of the most hilarious product-placement moments in recent memory, here placed in the mouth of the increasingly incoherent Jean-Rene).
As the title character, Lacoste (The French Kissers, Asterix and Obelix: God Save Britannia) lays on the low-key, laid-back attitude known from his other work, ensuring he seems much too innocent and lovable to do anyone any harm, though his crafty duplicity is always lurking there, just beneath the surface. And as the fourth-billed star, Viard aces her devil-may-care best-friend role to such an extent, audiences may come out hoping Delpy will write a star vehicle for her next. Even in throwaway moments in which she has seemingly nothing to do — such as the clearly chroma-keyed scenes in Greece in which she’s too busy getting friendly with a hot local (Georges Corraface, in one of the film’s countless cameos) to assist Violette even by phone — Viard manages to inject moments of mirth and character insight.
Luc Besson’s regular cinematographer, Thierry Arbogast, and young composer Mathieu Lamboley, both in their first collaboration with Delpy, help shed some of her indie cred in exchange for a big-screen sheen that seems appropriate for this clearly more mainstream entertainment. If Lolo the film, like its title character, finally does go overboard in its final reel, audiences are unlikely to care, probably reacting with something akin to all-forgiving motherly love to this last act of filial transgression.
Production companies: The Film, Mars Films, Tempete Sous Un Crane
Cast: Julie Delpy, Dany Boon, Vincent Lacoste, Karin Viard, Antoine Lounguine, Christophe Vandevelde, Elise Larnicole, Christophe Canard, Karl Lagerfeld, Frederic Beigbeder, Georges Corraface
Director: Julie Delpy
Screenplay: Julie Delpy, Eugenie Grandval
Producer: Michael Gentile
Director of photography: Thierry Arbogast
Production designer: Emmanuelle Duplay
Costume designer: Pierre-Yves Gayraud
Editor: Virginie Bruant
Music: Mathieu Lambolay
Casting: Nicolas Ronchi
Sales: CAA/Wild Bunch
No rating, 99 minutes
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek