‘The New Kid’: (‘Le Nouveau’): San Sebastian Review

The New Kid - H 2015
Courtesy of Mars Distribution
Freaks and geeks, French style.

Actor turned director Rudi Rosenberg debuts with this Paris-set teen dramedy.

We’ve all seen the story before: a shy teenager transfers into a new school, where he has to learn the ropes, fight the bullies and, if all goes well, get the girl. Popular hits like The Karate Kid already did a pretty good job with that scenario, as did classics like Rebel Without a Cause.

But actor turned director Rudi Rosenberg manages to breathe some fresh air into the concept with The New Kid (Le Nouveau), a film that not only favors the nerds over the jocks – who, in this Parisian version, look like slim, well-coiffed teen models – but one that shows how fun it is to be on the lower end of the social totem pole.

Featuring winning performances from a cast of unknown geeks, plus a welcome sense of humor, Kid suffers from some growing pains in the script department and doesn't quite work as a full-fledged feature. But as a lightweight Gallic counterpart to something like Lukas Moodysson’s Show Me Love, it may have enough appeal to find overseas interest after a premiere in San Sebastian’s New Directors sidebar.

Benoit (Rephael Ghrenassia) is a bashful 13-year-old with cheeks every grandma would just love to pinch. When he moves to Paris’s chi-chi Left Bank, he lands in a junior high school where – like basically everywhere – the popular kids tend to be the richer, more attractive ones, leaving everyone else to suffer in the economy class of uncoolness.

After failing to make it with the gorgeous (and Swedish) Johanna (Johanna Lindstedt), Benoit falls in with a bunch of outcasts who share a love of goofy jokes and lame pranks, as well as a certain solidarity in their loserdom. Among his cohorts are the plain old weird Joshua (Joshua Raccah), the uber-dweeb Constantin (Guillaume Cloud Roussel) and the handicapped, tough-minded Aglaee (Geraldine Martineau).

There’s not much of a narrative arc here beyond the gradual evolution of Benoit, who slowly realizes that being cool is less important than feeling good in one’s place, even if it’s not at the top of the food chain. In a city like Paris where social mores haven't necessarily changed much since the era of Louis XIV, and where wealth and good looks still tend to count most, it’s a pleasure to see a film that amusingly debunks whatever is chic or a la mode in favor of the underdogs. (The New Kid really should be required viewing for all Parisians ages 13 and under.)

Coaxing spontaneous and believable turns from his young actors – especially Raccah, whose portrayal of Joshua is spot-on freaky (perhaps he’s not acting at all) – Rosenberg guides his cast with plenty of affection, though he doesn’t shy away from the tougher moments of puberty, nor from the evil that teenagers can do. There are times when The New Kid is actually difficult to watch – not because it’s violent or transgressive, but because it faithfully depicts a time in our lives when humiliation is a painful but crucial part of growing up, a rite of passage toward the uncertainty of adulthood.   

Production companies: Recifilms, Cinefrance, D8 Films, Mars Films
Cast: Rephael Ghrenassia, Joshua Raccah, Geraldine Martineau, Guillaume Cloud Roussel, Max Boubil
Director, screenwriter: Rudi Rosenberg
Producers: Mathias Rubin, Eric Juherian
Executive producer: Eric Zaouali
Director of photography: Nicolas Loir
Production designer: Sebastien Meunier
Costume designers: Elise Bouquet, Reem Kuzayli
Editor: Julie Lena
Composer: Jonathan Morali
Casting director: Amelie Lagrange
Sales agent: Indie Sales Company

No rating, 81 minutes