'Five': Film Review

FIVE Still - H 2016
Courtesy Julien Panié/StudioCanal
'Friends' meets 'Pusher' in this fun and shallow French comedy.

'Yves Saint Laurent' star Pierre Niney plays a yuppie drug dealer who's in over his head.

In Breaking Bad, Walter White becomes a meth dealer in order to pay for his cancer treatments and provide for his family. In The Wire, Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell are the drug kingpins of a broken city that leaves them precious few alternatives. And in the new French comedy Five, a spoiled, Lacoste-wearing rich kid, played by Yves Saint Laurent star Pierre Niney, turns to drug dealing so he can keep paying rent on the fabulous Left Bank apartment where he lives with his four best childhood friends.

If that sounds like the most shallow excuse ever for a life of crime, let alone a movie plot, debuting writer-director Igor Gotesman manages to turn it into a lively and often rather funny affair, dishing out oodles of sex, drugs and hip-hop, with plenty of below-the-belt humor a l’americaine. Indeed, Five simply wouldn’t exist without The Hangover, Neighbors and Superbad, and while it’s fun to see a dirty alternative to your typical Gallic comedie boulvardiere, it’s also too bad the film tackles its subject matter in the most superficial way imaginable. Lots of buzz should give this crew a strong showing on home turf, with overseas trips to Francophonia.

Following a Thailand-set opening, we flashback with a Guy Ritchie-style voiceover introducing us to Samuel (Niney), Timothee (Francois Civil), Vadim (Gotesman), Nestor (Idrissa Hanrot) and Julia (Margot Bancilhon), five Parisian besties who like to take the piss out of one another when they’re not getting wasted or high. As none of them seems to have gainful employment, they’re lucky to have Samuel, who bankrolls their five-star lifestyle by having his dad pay for a swank luxury apartment on the Place du Pantheon, where they each have their own huge bedroom (although Vadim and Julia, who are secretly dating, tend to sleep together).

But the party comes to an end when Samuel’s father learns that his son is not in medical school as planned — prompting a hilarious scene where Niney tries to resuscitate a man having a seizure — but instead studying classical theater. With his trust fund gone and no other source of available income, Samuel begins dealing weed to keep paying for the flat so as not to disappoint his friends, developing a fairly stable clientele (that includes actress Fanny Ardant, playing herself) and a decent cover as a valet attendant in an upscale restaurant (he deposits the dope in his customers’ cars).

The problem is that as much as Samuel and the stoner Timothee, who partners up with him, seem to be your typical hip-hop-loving upper-crusters, they obviously never translated the lyrics to Biggie Smalls’ “The Ten Crack Commandments.” Otherwise, they wouldn’t be getting high on their own supply, paying with credit, trusting too many people and, later on, going to the cops for help, prompting a band of psychotic banlieue dealers to come after them with a vengeance.

It’s hard to have much sympathy for Samuel’s plight when he’s risking his skin simply to maintain a lifestyle that 99% of the world cannot afford, and Five never manages to convince in the plot department, though it moves so fast we barely have any time to think about it. Nor do any of the characters come across as particularly compelling — save perhaps for Vadim, who serves as a sort of moral compass for the group.

On the other hand, Gotesman, who has a background in TV sketch comedy, dishes out enough gross-out gags and R-rated sex talk to rival his American counterparts, going so far as to have one guy carry his own bowel movement barehanded up a flight of steps. There are easy laughs to be had in such sequences and they definitely keep one watching, even if some of the jokes wouldn’t necessarily pass muster in the U.S. (especially one bit involving a girl, a bloody nose and suggestions of sodomy).

But if Five doesn’t completely slide off the rails until the end, it’s mostly thanks to Niney’s performance, which has the stage-trained actor (and TV sketch-comedy wiz) playing an awkward sort of street thug — one who’s built like a string bean and way too nice to cause any real harm. The rest of the cast is fairly sharp as well, with Civil (Made in France; As Above, So Below) memorable as the always-blunted Timothee.

Tech credits are bling-bling flashy, as is a soundtrack filled with rap jams that include the Swizz Beatz club anthem, “It’s Me Bitches.” Set design by Nicolas De Boiscuille (Simon Killer) does a good job with the Paris dream apartment at the film’s center: It’s as if Sam and his buds grew up watching Friends and actually believed it was real.

Production companies: Les Films du Kiosque, StudioCanal, Cinefrance, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Pierre Niney, Francois Civil, Igor Gotesman, Margot Bancilhon, Idrissa Hanrot
Director-screenwriter: Igor Gotesman
Producers: Francois Kraus, Denis Pineau-Valencienne
Director of photography: Julien Rouxc
Production designer: Nicolas De Boiscuille
Costume designers: Elise Bouquet, Reem Kuzayli
Editor: Stephan Couturier
Composer: Gush
Casting director: Elodie Demey
Sales: StudioCanal

In French
Not rated, 102 minutes