'A Man in a Hurry' ('Un homme presse'): Film Review

Courtesy of Gaumont Distribution
An enjoyable if predictable recovery story.

Fabrice Luchini ('In the House') stars as a fast and furious CEO who loses his capacity for speech in director Herve Mimran’s latest dramedy.

In the new French dramedy A Man in a Hurry (Un homme presse), Alain, the powerful CEO of a major car manufacturer, suffers a life-threatening stroke, loses his capacity for speech and winds up getting fired from his dream job. We also learn that his wife died a few years earlier, probably from cancer. Oh, and he’s estranged from his daughter, who admires him but despises his absentee fathering. Sound like fun?

And yet, this third feature from writer-director Herve Mimram (All That Glitters, which he co-directed with actress Geraldine Nakache) can be quite enjoyable, mostly thanks to the lead turn from screen-and-stage star Fabrice Luchini, who inflects Alain’s predicaments with plenty of deadpan pathos and dry Gallic wit.

For most of the running time, it’s a pleasure just to sit back and watch the exuberant Luchini — who starred in several Eric Rohmer films early on in his career and recently headlined Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay and Francois Ozon’s In the House — pronounce, or rather mispronounce, all his dialogue, portraying how Alain struggles with the basics of the French language as he tries to recover.

Mimram’s movie works best when it depicts the quotidian hardships that a stroke victim faces, worst when it panders to easy sentiments — especially in a rather toothless third act that’s basically one music montage after another. Released in French theaters last week, the pic raked in 300,000 admissions for Gaumont and it should go on to find a strong audience at home and in other Francophone territories. The story also feels like perfect remake fodder: It’s the kind of thing that Bill Murray or Steve Martin would pull off expertly, and probably with a few more laughs.

Based on the memoir by former Peugeot head Christian Streiff, the film follows his alter-ego Alain (Luchini) as he gets ready to launch a new luxury electric car at an automobile convention in Geneva. But about a month before that happens, Alain wakes up one morning with a numbness in his right arm, after which he passes out. A little while later as he passes out a second time — at which point his chauffeur rushes him to the hospital and we learn he’s had two major strokes.

When Alain wakes up, his mind and body seem to be more or less intact. But when he opens his mouth, only nonsense comes out. A meeting with the hospital speech therapist, Jeanne (Leila Bekhti), reveals that the memory loss he suffered has caused a severe impediment: He knows what he wants to say but no longer knows how to say it. So instead of saying “boat” he’ll say “goat.” Or he’ll say “bonjour” rather than “au revoir.”

This, of course, provides endless possibilities for comedy, especially for an actor like Luchini who’s famous in France for stage performances where he recites classic texts and poems aloud. Here, he scrambles and jumbles every single line, in many cases pronouncing words backwards in the “verlan” slang that’s been popular in the French banlieue and elsewhere since the 1980s. And he plays all of this with a straight face.

Beyond all the clever wordplay, Mimram’s film follows a rather obvious narrative path as Alain recovers and makes his way toward personal redemption, especially in the eyes of the loving daughter (Rebecca Marder) that he neglected for so long. A subplot involving the therapist’s backstory (she was adopted and is seeking out her real mom) also feels rather predictable, as if the filmmakers felt obliged to give the side characters more weight but came up with the easiest scenarios possible.

Such drawbacks cause A Man in a Hurry to lose intensity during its latter half, where familiar plot mechanics take the place of good writing. Still, Luchini’s indelible turn goes a long way, making for a virtual one-man-show that can be both funny and emotional, even if the character he plays is a total corporate snob. Bekhti (A Prophet) is also strong in a part that feels too clichéd at times, while actor-director Igor Gotesman (Five) is amusing as an orderly who likes to pull off pranks with the patients.

Production companies: Albertine Productions, Gaumont, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Leile Bekhti, Rebecca Marder, Igor Gotesman, Clemence Massart
Director: Herve Mimran
Screenwriter: Herve Mimran, with the collaboration of Helene Fillieres, based on the book ‘J’etais un homme presse’ by Christian Streiff
Producers: Sidone Dumas, Matthieu Tarot
Director of photography: Jerome Almeras
Production designer: Nicolas de Boiscuille
Costume designer: Emmanuelle Youchnovski
Editor: Celia Lafitedupont
Composer: Balmorhea
Casting director: Michael Laguens
Sales: Gaumont

In French
100 minutes