'A Bun in the Oven' ('Le Petit Locataire'): Film Review

A BUN IN THE OVEN - Still 1 -H 2016
Courtesy of Diaphana Films
Late pregnancy comedy fails to deliver.

Comedy star Karin Viard ('The Belier Family') headlines writer-director Nadege Loiseau's debut feature about a 49-year-old mother-to-be.

Having a bun in the oven, as in the title of Nadege Loiseau's debut feature, is a colloquial expression for being pregnant, and the "little tenant," as in the original French title Le Petit Locataire, is quite simply an unborn child — or, in blunt terms, a fetus. The movie's unique selling point is that its mother-to-be protagonist is aged 49 and was expecting the onset of menopause rather than a renewed sentence to years of child-rearing. It's a promising premise, but with its narrow focus, pitched as a comedy and straining for laughs, Loiseau's Bun is likely to be a hard sell to home audiences as much as to the international market.

The opening shot presents Nicole Payan (Karin Viard) in front of the bathroom mirror, brushing her teeth with one hand and shaving her legs with the other, shorthand for telling us that she's being run off her feet by her household duties. Among her charges are her unemployed husband Jean-Pierre (Philippe Rebbot), her daughter Arielle (Manon Kneuse), Arielle's 6-year-old daughter Zoe (Stella Fenouillet) and her elderly mother Mamilette (Helene Vincent), not to mention Arielle's Canadian partner Toussaint (Antoine Bertrand), who is a constant presence.

The unexpected and totally unwanted pregnancy turns Nicole's life upside down. She struggles to decide whether to have an abortion — she makes arrangements to have the operation but is unable to follow through. The decision once made, the film is then punctuated by visits to the gynecologist for check-ups, bouts of morning sickness, sudden cravings and all the inconveniences that come from being pregnant at a time of life when most people are thinking in terms of starting to wind down and take it easy.

Such drama as there is in the main storyline involves conflict with Jean-Pierre, once a promising gymnast but now reduced to offering training classes down at the local gym. Generally frustrated by life, he is unhappy at being refused sex when he wants it, or by being too tired out by work (he is recruited to stand in for Nicole temporarily in her job in a motorway toll booth after she is granted maternity leave) to perform when Nicole wants it.

The family is boisterous but unremarkable. Arielle works in a sausage factory and likes to speak her mind, particularly to Nicole. Zoe is cute and Mamilette adorable, except when it's the other way around. Marilette has occasional "senior moments" and appears to be in the early stages of dementia. None of these storylines provide much in the way of tension, and high spirits are are no substitute for good jokes.

Bun was developed from a 25-minute short Loiseau made in 2013 called Le Locataire (The Tenant), which tells essentially the same story, and some elements in this feature-length version come across as padding. Two-thirds of the way through the proceedings, Nicole's adult son Vincent (Raphael Ferret), who is serving as a chef in a French naval submarine, appears in the scene without bringing anything of significance to the table. A fantasy scene in which Nicole imagines being strenuously made love to by her gynecologist Doctor Gentil (Gregoire Bonnet) is neither germane nor particularly funny.

Viard has an impressive track record in both comedy and straight drama, and one can admire the commitment she brings to the central role. However her presence fails to compensate for the lack of an original approach to a potentially interesting subject. With four generations of women under the same roof, there was scope for Loiseau to achieve her declared aim of exploring seriously the theme of mother-daughter relations, but it can't be said that she delivers in this or in the film as a whole.

Production companies: Les Films du Worso, Srab Films
Cast: Karin Viard, Philippe Rebbot, Helene Vincent, Manon Kneuse, Antoine Bertrand, Stella Fenouillet
Director: Nadege Loiseau
Writers: Nadege Loiseau, Fanny Burdino, Mazarine Pingeot
Director of photography: Julien Roux
Producers: Sylvie Pialat, Toufik Ayadi, Christophe Barral
Production designer: Pierre du Boisberranger
Costume designer: Anne-Laure Nicolas
Editor: Frederic Bellehaiche
Composer: Guillaume Loiseau
Casting director: Tatiana Vialle Nuyten
Sales: Bac Films International

In French
99 minutes