The Talent Of My Friends (Le talent de mes amis)
France (2015) Dir. Alex Luntz
I’m not sure when exactly at what age a mid-life crisis is supposed to take place or indeed can be categorised as one, but 35 sounds a little early to me. However, like the main character is this French comedy drama, the effects of making rash live changing decisions can still be the same to those around you.
Writer-director Alex Luntz plays Alexander Ludon, a 35 year-old working in advertising with his best friend Jeff Cortes (Bruno Sanches), spending most of their time larking about and not taking things seriously. While Jeff has two children with his wife Cécile (Audrey Lamy), Alex and his wife Carole (Anne Marivin) are trying IVF treatment but neither man has any real ambition in life.
One day a motivational speaker arrives at their company, Thibault Redinger (Tom Dingler), an old school friend of Alex’s, formally a chubby loser, now a success in life. Alex and Jeff attend one of Thibault’s seminars where Alex admits he’d rather be a singer than a 9-5 drone, so he decides one day to quit his job and make a bid for stardom under Thibault’s instruction. But of course, it comes at a price.
Not the most original story but Luntz and co-writers/co-stars Tom Dingler and Bruno Sanches try to add a quirky touch to it, at last in the opening act which drops hints of a Michel Gondry-lite comedy but quickly finds itself veering towards Convention Street. It’s an amiable enough effort and passes the time, possessing some cute gags with a sobering undercurrent of stark realisation that dominates the latter half.
The main thrust of this tale is how Alex feels energised by Thibauld’s apparent success with his model wife Helen (Julia Piaton), flashy car and big house and following the seminar decides that he will revive his dream of becoming a singer. But Alex doesn’t seem to be aware that others will be affected by his decision, namely his partner in crime Jeff and wife Carole.
For man-child Jeff, Alex’s sudden resignation leaves him alone at the office and vulnerable to the wrath of interim-superior Stéphane Brunge (Sylvie Testud), whom Jeff hit in the eye whilst playing darts against his office door. With the more talented Alex no longer there to keep Jeff in line, Brunge fires him but Jeff hides this from his wife whilst trying to find a new job.
One has to wonder how Jeff managed to get a job, marry and have kids if he is so irresponsible but he did, presumably a way to avoid the trope of the utterly useless best friend who gets in Alex’s way as his star ascends. Instead Jeff has a lot to lose on his own accord which he attributes to Alex’s leaving him in the lurch for Thibauld while becoming a parallel to their struggles.
Spoiler alert – Alex’s bid for stardom isn’t exactly the rags to riches story we’d expect to see, another predictable route Luntz and co. strive to avoid. While Alex undergoes an image makeover and gets a TV talent show audition with Carole’s support, she is disappointed that it comes at the expense of their IVF treatment, which Alex seems to have no problem shrugging off.
The other twist is that Thibauld is a bit of a deceptive character too, as we learn, which I won’t spoil but does add an interesting perspective to the tale, especially in relation to Jeff’s story while casting a shadow over Alex’s. It is not so much that Thibauld is a fraud per se but he isn’t the success story he suggests he is, and if he does end up helping other people, he is the one who needs help.
Demonstrating how Thibauld is somewhat trapped by playing a false role, his elderly grandmother, played by the legendary Jeanne Moreau, has a fixation with Robert Redford. She calls her grandson “Robert” as if the man himself is her room at the care home, which Thibauld, doesn’t exactly correct her on. I doubt he is playing on his gran’s senility rather accommodating her to avoid any upset.
For a film about chasing one’s dreams regardless of how late in life in may be, the message does seem to be “don’t bother” which is refreshingly honest and wickedly subversive in a mire of numerous other films that favour the typical route of someone experiencing some success before it goes pear shaped.
But it is not really about that as such; while it does say “at least give it a go” it is about realising that success is not necessarily measured in fame or fortune but what you can provide the people nearest to you in your lives. As far as searching for fame tales go this is one of the more down to earth ones but not without some cheeky whimsy in the presentation to provide some levity.
As with French comedies the humour is hit and miss for us Brits but some moments are genuinely clever, such as Alex and Jeff shrinking down to the size of kids when being reprimanded, and the hilarious driving re-test Jeff and Thibauld have to take, in a scene that will resonate with anyone with forty plus years driving experience.
I can’t claim to be familiar with any of the main actors but they’ve assigned themselves the right roles – Luntz has that half average-half potential star look about him, playing up to the awkwardness of Alex very well. Tom Dingler has the looks to pull off the smarmy playboy adept at hiding his own flaws, but of the men, Bruno Sanches is the most fascinating to watch as Jeff, the drifter most in need of a dose of maturity.
Despite a few twists in the narrative and some clever and funny gags, The Talent Of My Friends is a lot more well meaning than it appears but really needs to decide it wants to be serious or silly to make its intended point.