‘Divorce French Style’ (‘Papa ou maman 2’): Film Review

Divorce French Style - Still - H - 2016
Tibo & Anouchka
The French don't always do it better.

Laurent Lafitte and Marina Fois are back as two Frenchies who love to hate each other — and even their children — in Martin Bourboulon’s risqué family comedy.

Just as statistics show that half of all marriages — or at least those in the U.S. and Western Europe — now end in divorce, there’s definitely a 50 percent chance that the sequel to a hit comedy will be worse than its predecessor. So for every 22 Jump Street, Christmas Vacation or Back to the Future Part II, there will always be The Hangover Part II, Zoolander 2 or Evan Almighty to prove that the numbers rarely if ever lie.

In Divorce French Style (Papa ou maman 2), the follow-up to the 2015 Gallic box-office smash Daddy or Mommy, the cast and crew are back for another round of bad family behavior, adding some decent gags to a concept that already outstayed its welcome in the first movie. This time the well runs dry about midway through, with the team resorting to a classic sequel trope in order to keep the ball rolling: When all else fails, throw everyone in an airplane and send them somewhere exotic.

Still, there are a few choice moments early on, with returning stars Laurent Lafitte and Marina Fois gleefully playing a semi-former couple that loves to hate itself, and newcomer Jonathan Cohen memorable here as a new boyfriend who gets caught in the middle. Opening numbers should be strong in France, though they may not beat the 2.8 million admissions earned by the original, while overseas possibilities include Francophone territories and producers looking for remake fodder.

Daddy or Mommy was fairly novel in its depiction of French childrearing practices that would have any American helicopter parent going into a tailspin, revealing a once happily married duo — the gynecologist Vincent (Lafitte) and the construction manager Florence (Fois) — who went to insane extremes to lose custody of their three kids amidst a rocky separation, only to wind up in each other’s arms by the last scene.

In the sequel, the two start out as a picture-perfect 21st century pair living in identical homes directly across the street from one another, each with its own state-of-the-art kitchen, fluffy dog and newly acquired significant other. Once again separated, but now with four children in tow, Vincent and Florence are sleeping with different people but still seem to hold each other in affection, at least until jealousy kicks in.

Franchise screenwriters Alexandre de la Patelliere and Matthieu Delaporte (What’s in a Name?) have a few tricks up their sleeves for the first act, underlining how this kind of “modern” arrangement is actually more of a curse than a blessing, especially when emotions are tossed into the mix. This culminates in a hilarious dinner scene between Vincent and his younger athletic girlfriend (Sara Giraudeau), and Florence and her millionaire genius lover (Cohen), with Vincent’s ego quickly getting the better of him.

Lafitte’s comic timing has always been impeccable (not including, perhaps, his controversial opening monologue at Cannes this year), and he’s on point during many of these early sequences, revealing the fragility of a man who seems to have it all but can’t accept the fact that his ex-wife can have it all, too. Fois is also terrific as a woman who pretends she’s happier than she really is, while Cohen gets the best lines as a guy so full of himself that you’d love to see him get his comeuppance — a wish that comes true when Florence’s colleague (Michel Vuillermoz) steps in to wreak havoc.

If the jokes are dished out with considerable skill during the film’s first half, they tend to miss their target for the remaining 40-50 minutes when the reunited family heads to the island of Reunion to visit Florence’s mom (Nicole Garcia). At this point — and for reasons not worth going into — the couple’s strategy is to convince their children they are somehow trying to fall in love again, and the plot starts churning in circles the way that Vincent and Florence wind up chasing each other around the picnic table (this actually happens).

Like the first film, Divorce French Style is a good pitch in search of a better script, though the energetic performances compensate for some of the weak writing, including several gags that show a severe lack of originality (cue up the scene where the couple's new baby accidentally eats dog food). Returning director Martin Bourboulon nonetheless adds some verve to the formula, following the shenanigans with slick camera moves courtesy of DP Laurent Dailland (The History of Love) — especially during an opening sequence-shot revealing two identical luxury dream homes that will soon be the setting of countless romantic nightmares.

Production companies: Chapter 2, Pathe, M6 Films, Fargo Films, Nexus Factory
Cast: Laurent Lafitte, Marina Fois, Sara Giaraudeau, Jonathan Cohen, Alexandre Desrousseaux, Anna Lemarchand, Achille Potier
Director: Martin Bourboulon
Screenwriters: Alexandre de la Patelliere, Matthieu Delaporte
Producers: Dimitri Rassam, Alexandre de la Patelliere
Director of photography: Laurent Dailland
Production designer: Stephane Taillasson
Costume designer: Marite Coutard
Editor: Virginie Bruant
Composer: Jerome Rebotier
Casting director: Rachel Desmarest, Justine Leocadie
Sales: Pathe International

In French

Not rated, 86 minutes