The Adulteen (16 ans ou presque): Film Review

Roger Do Minh/UGC
A mixed-bag comedy saved by committed performances and good music.

Laurent Lafitte plays a brilliant and precocious 34-year-old lawyer who suffers from "Late Teen Crisis Disorder" in this French comedy directed by newcomer Tristan Seguela.

A pimple on the face of a brilliant and precocious French lawyer in his mid-thirties is the beginning of a lengthy descent into a hitherto never-lived adolescence in The Adulteen (16 ans ou presque), the feature debut of French director Tristan Seguela.

Akin to the many body-switch films that have come out of the U.S., though without any actual body switching, this leisurely paced comedy introduces something called Late Teen Crisis Disorder, or LTCD, an affliction that can apparently occur in precocious talents who grow up in cold climates. It basically comes down to having the typical adolescence-related signs of rebellion, awkwardness and bad taste a decade or two later in life than usual. Comedie-Francaise actor Laurent Lafitte (Little White Lies, On the Other Side of the Tracks) is a gifted enough comedian to sustain interest in this mixed-bag effort, though the screenplay doesn’t really know where to take the material once the full premise has been established.

Halfheartedly promoted by local distributor UGC, the fun-sounding pitch should manage to attract some patrons, though stiff December competition is unlikely to make this a big hit in the long run. Offshore, producers looking for remake ideas and comedy-inclined events should take note.

At 34, Arnaud Mustier (Lafitte) is already a brilliant lawyer and a philosopher who’s something of a nascent celebrity intellectual. His father (Christophe Malavoy) is a Left Bank bourgeois bigwig who hangs out with famous politicians and it’s in the silver frame of a picture of his dad with President Obama, which sits on the piano at his parents’ home, that Arnaud discovers the reflection of a zit the size of a chickpea. 

In the absence of their parents, Arnaud is teensitting his baby brother, Jules (newcomer Victor George), an actual teenager who’s almost two decades his junior. Unlike his big brother, Jules is anything but precocious. Instead, he spends his days either on Chatroulette, in front of video games or at school, an institution he seems to consider exclusively as a place where he can hang out with people of his own age.

When the learned and prim Arnaud is finally diagnosed with LTCD by a medical expert (journalist-turned-comic Francois Rollin), the intellectual starts to hang out more with his slacker brother, with mostly predictable results. For roughly the first hour, the rhythm’s laid-back and the instances of humor come in small, irregular doses. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as this allows Lafitte and, to a lesser extent, George, some time to develop their characters as well, though screenwriters Eric Benzekri and Jean-Baptiste Delafon seem content to let the actors do most of the heavy lifting in this department, which both do with ease.

Arnaud of course gets a trendy but weird-looking (on a 34-year-old) haircut and shops for baggy clothes in a montage sequence set to pumping beats, and there are more of those at what looks like the French equivalent of a frat party at a villa in Trouville, Normandy (the source of a weak joke, as Trouville, which actually exists, can roughly be translated as “Shitholetown”). 

While these scenes are well executed and occasionally chuckle-inducing, they feel like perfunctory stops that could’ve used another draft or two to add something unexpected or fresh. Because genre conventions require that some kind of order is reestablished after all the mayhem -- apparently, eating kebabs, smoking grass, masturbating and getting down on the dance floor are what pass for mayhem these days -- the film’s third act has to introduce elements that feel especially contrived and out of sync with the characters.

A big plus is the choice of music and the score from the duo Julien Jabre and Michael Tordjman, which is playful and energetic and helps keep things peppy. Pierre Aim’s cinematography, production design by Jeremie D. Lignol and costume design by Frederic Cambier all delight in contrasting adolescence and adulthood.

Opens: Dec. 18 (in France)
Production companies: Les Films du 24, TF1 Droits Audiovisuels, TF1 Films Production
Cast: Laurent Lafitte, Christophe Malavoy, Judith El Zein, Jonathan Cohen, Victor George, Francois Rollin, Alexandre Prince, Roxane Bret, Khadim Sylla, Theo Chavannes, Thomas Bonsang, Lina Benzerti
Director: Tristan Seguela
Screenwriters: Eric Benzekri, Jean-Baptiste Delafon
Producer: Mikael Abecassis
Director of photography: Pierre Aim
Production designer: Jeremie D. Lignol
Music: Julien Jabre, Michael Tordjman
Costume designer: Frederic Cambier
Editor: Gregoire Sivan
Sales: TF1 International
No rating, 88 minutes.