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March 25, 2016

There’s a running gag on the internet, taking a movie from one genre and re-cutting it as if it were another one entirely. Horror classic The Shining becomes a family-friendly heartwarmer; musical romance West Side Story becomes a zombie action flick; and so on. That trick should be a lot easier with Julie Delpy’s Lolo, since by all rights this rom-com should be a psychological thriller.

It sounds like a joke, but Lolo really does have more in common with Fatal Attraction than with, say, 2 Days in Paris or Un plan parfait. We start with Violette (Delpy), dissatisfied with the Atlantic coastal spa vacation she’s sharing with her fellow 40-something friend Ariane (Karin Viard), who says she just needs to get laid. With perfect timing, a guy falls in her lap. Or at least his fish does.

Violette and Jean-René (Dany Boon) couldn’t be more different. This “Biarritz bumpkin” is the sort of guy who you might expect to show up as an extra guest in Le Dîner de Cons, while Violette mills about in the ultra-chic world of Parisian art and fashion, on a nickname basis with Karl Lagerfeld. But he’s sweet and, we’re told, prodigiously endowed, so she keeps him around, to the mortification of her darling son, Lolo (Vincent Lacoste).

And Lolo is where Lolo starts to get weird. An aspiring artist himself, Violette returns to her apartment to find him back in his old room, having broken up with his girlfriend. He disapproves of her new boyfriend, but plays up the jeune-filial affection with his “mommykins” while secretly setting out to destroy Jean-René. It starts with itching powder and subtle hints of infidelity, but Lolo is set with plans for broken bones, framed cyberterrorism charges, and even polonium poisoning if it comes to that.

All that’s missing is a boiled rabbit, yet somehow this plays as a comedy. I’m not being sarcastic here, it really is hilarious, in a middlebrow-French way. Boon is a gifted cut-up, ready to stand in the firing line of any embarrassing punishment Lolo dishes out. I might not seek out Jean-René as a friend, but Boon makes him the sort of well-meaning dope it’s hard not to like. Unless you’re a psychopath with mommy issues, at least.

Lacoste’s Lolo may be another reason it works as comedy instead of horror. He’s clearly unhinged over Jean-René, but if he were any meaner about it the pranks would verge over from funny to scary. The downside, though, is that it’s hard to really buy the character getting this obsessed with driving away his mother’s boyfriend without digging deeper into this darker side of the character.

But since the story does share so much of its foundation with scarier movies, it makes sense to ask some of the usual questions about thrillers that we might not normally ask about comedies. Chief among them: what are we really scared about here? If this were an American movie, the obvious answer would be the generation of stay-at-home Millennials and the havoc they wreak on their parents’ lives.

Sternly throwing your grown kid out of the house is something most members of Generation X would ascribe to their Baby Boomer parents, which is the last thing they’d want to admit to being. Gen-Xers want to be the cool parents who are friends with their children. It’s only within their closest friendships — like that between Violette and Ariane — that they’ll admit the honest fact: sometimes they can’t stand the little brats.

Violette is caught between that uncomfortable truth, the part she played in raising this kid, and her inability to take responsibility for him by pushing him out of the nest so she can have her own life; a scary place to be, indeed. You’d almost have to laugh just to get through it.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

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