'The Price of Success' ('Le Prix du succes'): Film Review | TIFF 2017
Tahar Rahim ('A Prophet') and Roschdy Zem ('Days of Glory') headline this behind-the-scenes French drama about a comedian whose real life is far from funny.
Like its fairly generic title, The Price of Success (Le Prix du succes) takes us through the predictable ups and downs of a French standup star whose fame winds up costing him dearly. It’s a story we’ve seen before, although never quite in this specific context, and second-time director Teddi Lussi-Modeste (Jimmy Riviere) milks it for what it’s worth before treading too far into cliche territory during the last act.
Boosted by solid turns from Tahir Rahim, Roschdy Zem and Maiwenn, with Zem especially riveting as a thwarted manager trying to bank off his brother’s celebrity, the film manages to rise above the fray thanks to its strong cast but otherwise lacks enough originality to be memorable. An international premiere in Toronto should help give it a profile abroad, while a late August release in France hasn’t yielded strong numbers.
Rahim (A Prophet) plays Brahim, a successful comedian of North African origin who hails from the Paris banlieue and seems to be modeled on a real-life comic like Franco-Algerian star Jamel Debbouze (Amelie). When the film begins, Brahim looks like he has it all: sold-out shows, tons of fans, a bodacious Paris apartment, a Ferrari and a beautiful girlfriend, Linda (Maiwenn), who’s also one of his key advisors. The only hitch — and a major one at that — is his older brother, Mourad (Zem), a volatile black sheep who’s been managing Brahim since his very first club gigs and now maintains a Machiavellian grip on his career.
Lussi-Modeste and co-writer Rebecca Zlotowski (director of Planetarium) set up the film’s major conflict from the get-go, placing Brahim in an ever-tightening vice grip between his girl and his bro. The kid clearly wants to free himself from the latter, taking meetings with a hotshot talent agent (Claire Denis regular Gregoire Colin) who promises to put him on a new path, while moving Linda into his bachelor pad so they can settle down together. But Mourad is such a live wire, and also such an integral part of Brahim’s work and life — during an interview he claims to be his brother’s “agent, lawyer, driver, bodyguard and sometimes his mother” — that he’s impossible to shake without causing major emotional, and even physical, damage for all parties involved.
Things take a turn for the worse when Mourad attacks Linda at home, in a scene that’s both obvious and a bit ridiculous, yet salvaged by the intensity of the performances. Veteran Zem (Days of Glory) comes across as ferocious and entirely helpless, like a wounded pitbull lashing out at everyone around him. And actress-director Maiwenn does a good job keeping cool despite all Linda puts up with — which is quite a lot, especially after Brahim’s father dies and the rift between the two brothers turns into an all-out war complete with beatings and kidnappings.
Who ever knew that comedy could be so dangerous? With all the fights, entourages and s—t-talking, The Price of Success should have been about a rapper instead of a comic, because along with its overzealous scenario one major problem is that Brahim never ever comes across as funny. The guy literally doesn’t crack a solid joke throughout the movie, which was either a deliberate choice on the filmmakers’ part or a flaw in the writing and casting. Not that Rahim doesn’t know how to play a good guy caught in a bad situation, as he expertly did in Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, but he lacks the charisma to convince us that Brahim is a top-notch talent.
More compelling is the way Lussi-Modeste captures the social pressures placed on someone from modest immigrant origins who suddenly makes it to the top. All of Brahim’s friends and family — and Mourad especially — want a piece of him, while old buddies from the hood grow resentful when they eventually get pushed to the wayside. Such class envy is not an entirely novel concept either, but here it serves as a powerful tool to examine what fame and fortune mean to a kid like Brahim in a country like France. At times it can be glorious, like in the scene where Brahim and Linda cruise down the Champs-Elysees in his convertible. But, as the wise Biggie Smalls once said, it’s mostly mo money, mo problems.
Production company: Kazak Productions
Cast: Tahir Rahim, Roschdy Zem, Maiwenn, Gregoire Colin
Director: Teddi Lussi-Modeste
Screenwriters: Rebecca Zlotowski, Teddi Lussi-Modeste
Producer: Jean-Christophe Reymond
Director of photography: Julien Poupard
Production designer: Maria Larrea
Costume designer: Marite Coutard
Editor: Julien Lacheray
Casting director: Philippe Elkoubi
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Sales: Indie Sales Company