Alain is a big cheese in the car industry. Every day, his clock-radio wakes him up at 5.30 with the news, and even his daughter has to make an appointment with his secretary if she wants to talk to him. Alain’s speciality is motivational talks, which is a bit of a problem after a stroke hits the bit of his brain responsible for language.
He regularly speaks in spoonerisms, and uses words to mean exactly what his fuddled brain wants of them, not what anyone else understands. He doesn’t realise that he is doing this until his daughter records what he’s just said and plays it back to him. Reluctantly, he starts to see Jeanne, who is a speech therapist – or as Alain calls her, a psychopath.
The first third of the film carries on like a Ronnie Barker sketch. Alain repeatedly pispronunciates his worms to hilarious effect (to be honest, there’s no need to be sarcastic here, it is carried off pretty well, and there are various funny scenes such as when a black waiter presumes that Alain is addressing him with street slang).
Everything is ambling along very pleasantly, when Alain gets summoned to his work. He is sacked because the other bosses think that having “a disabled” in charge will hurt their market share. You feel for a minute that the film will start to get darker, but it just carries on its own amiable way. So, Alain lets down his daughter – not for the first time. We learn more about the tragic death of his wife, for whom he could find too little time in his schedule, but he finds redemption in the end.
There are some films which trouble you for days after you see them, and there are others where the more time you spend thinking about them, the more you realise that they have very little to say beyond a few clichéd platitudes. Now that’s a statement of description, not judgement – the one type of film is not intrinsically better than the other – but this film definitely belongs to the latter category.
Don’t get me wrong. While it was going on, it very much engaged me. The characters are likeable and it is generally on the side of the angels. But you also think about the opportunities that it misses. We occasionally glimpse Alain’s housekeeper and chauffeur, who is sacked by the company alongside Alain, but neither is allowed any emotions or opinions beyond devotion to their boss.
And then there is Jeanne. She was not born in France but grew up there, having been adopted – or, as she says, was given away by her mother on the day of her birth. She is presumably a Muslim, and is afforded a crust of a subplot as a male nurse at the hospital tries to woo her. There’s a lot of potential here to develop an interesting three-dimensional character, but – as with Alain’s daughter, Jeanne is mainly portrayed just in regards of her impact on Alain.
I guess that the fact that Jeanne is allowed this sort of backstory at all means that the film is superior to many films which only care about their central (usually male) characters, so the feeling is more of missed potential than of being a bad film. It was ok. It was more than that – while I was watching it, it was very enjoyable. I just had the feeling it could have been more.