The Date Coach (Fiston): Film Review

Mika Cottellon/Marion Maitrejean
This light melodrama tries (and fails) to pass as a mainstream comedy.

French director Pascal Bourdiaux's second feature casts French comic superstar Franck Dubosc opposite 22-year-old stand-up talent Kev Adams and the late Valerie Benguigui.

PARIS -- A shy student, who’s never had the guts to even talk to the girl he’s been in love with since primary school, is given a helping hand in The Date Coach (Fiston), French filmmaker Pascal Bourdiaux’s pleasant melodrama that tries to pass itself off as a mainstream comedy.

Starring French comic heavyweight Franck Dubosc (Asterix at the Olympic Games, Billy & Buddy) in the title role and popular young actor-comedian Kev Adams (who had a supporting role in last year’s biggest local hit, Serial Teachers), this cross-generational buddy movie has the right cast to do some serious initial business in France, though mixed word-of-mouth will likely have an influence on its longer-term prospects. The fact the film is a tonal mess won’t help matters either at home or abroad, though the well-constructed plot outlines could potentially provide the basis for a better remake.

The film’s French title, Fiston, can be translated as the paternal-sounding “sonny boy,” and already suggests that the film is about familial relationships, though, intriguingly, the protagonist, Aix-en-Provence student Alex (Adams), lives with just his Mom (Valerie Benguigui) as his father fled the nest when Alex was five. The almost lifelong secret object of the youth's affection, as explained in the film's redundant voice-over, is the beautiful Sandra Valenti (Nora Arnezeder), and she is likewise the only child of a single mother, a mature Italian sex bomb with the not-too-subtle name of Monica (Helena Noguerra).

Though there are no dads in sight, the film’s main connection does feel like a surrogate father-son relationship, however, and comes about when one of Alex’s teachers (Laurent Bateau) tells him that Sandra’s apparent unattainability is similar to her mother’s back in the day, as Monica apparently only ever bedded one guy, the once successful but now reclusive writer Antoine (Dubosc). Before you can say "obvious plot twist," Alex has scootered down to the country house of the author to try and convince him to help him score with a Valenti, which, after the extremely perfunctory-feeling first couple of blatant refusals, he of course agrees to do.

The bulk of the film’s midsection is comprised of scenes in which Antoine sets dating tasks for Alex that involve asking random girls out. Also rather obviously, they invariably end in disaster, with Alex finding himself smeared with condiments after trying to chat up a group of ugly girls at a fast-food joint or being dragged off to the police station after too conspicuously staking out a cute bank employee (Alice Isaaz) so he can collect information on what she likes and how he could approach her.

Unfortunately, the screenplay, by TV writer Daive Cohen, manages to wring little humor from the proceedings apart from what’s obviously there at the surface and many of the one-joke set-ups -- such as a fey restaurant employee who’s been led to believe Alex and Antoine are a couple after they deny being father and son -- are stretched to exasperating length (this is the type of film in which an already not-very-funny gay confusion joke is followed by the suggestion of bananas for dessert, which in turn necessitates a third, extremely awkward punchline from Alex, who has to vehemently deny he wants to eat the phallic fruit).

Though the film's attempts at humor are not very sophisticated or even successful and the joke-density is much too low for a crowd-pleasing comedy, Bourdiaux surprisingly manages to sustain audience interest by treating most of the not directly comic material as a light but quite involving melodrama about single parents and their offspring and the inability of people to simply go after what they want.

Though clearly supporting roles, both the mothers are brought to vivid life by the actresses that play them, including the late Benguigui (What’s In a Name?), who died of breast cancer last year, in what turned out to be her last pot-smoking, doting-mother role. The substitute father/son rapport between Antoine and Alex also feels credible enough to support the various decisions the characters make, even if the comic sparks never really fly between the two actors. As the love interest mainly seen from afar, Arnezeder (Safe House) has little else to do but look pretty, which she does effortlessly.

The melodrama-over-comedy vibe is reinforced by Alexis Rault’s somewhat melancholic score, which refuses to become a laugh-track substitute and instead subtly highlights the characters’ emotional states and changes. Much like the film itself, the other technical contributions are neither spectacular nor embarrassing.

Opens: March 12 (in France)

Production companies: Monkey Pack Films, LGM Cinema, M6 Films, SND, Nexus Factory, Ufilm

Cast: Kev Adams, Franck Dubosc, Nora Arnezeder, Valerie Benguigui, Helena Noguerra, Alice Isaaz, Laurent Bateau

Director: Pascal Bourdiaux

Screenwriter: Daive Cohen

Producers: Jean-Yves Robin, Elisa Soussan

Co-producers: Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont

Director of photography: Yannick Ressigeac

Production designer: Pierre Queffeleac

Music: Alexis Rault

Costume designer: Laurence Chalou

Editor: Florent Vassault

Sales: SND / Groupe M6

No rating, 88 minutes.