Comedy is the most difficult genre to get right in movies – that is why there are so many poor ones – and it usually takes running time to set up the gags that will hopefully follow. That is, there is often about 20 minutes of viewing before the audience gets a decent reason to laugh because background has to be quickly established.
Francis Veber’s L’Emmerdeur (2008) has the audience laughing much earlier, which is an achievement. It builds on this successfully in a farce, set mostly in two adjoining rooms of a French hotel.
The hotel overlooks a courthouse where a criminal is being brought under heavy guard to hopefully name politicians and dignitaries in his evidence. This draws professional hit man Milan (Richard Berry) to his chosen hotel room in direct line of sight to where the witness will be brought.
While he is waiting, telescopic-sighted rifle in hand, his assistance is required to help the man in the adjoining room, Francois Pignon (Patrick Timsit), who has tried to hang himself due to the indifference of his ex-wife, Louise (Virginie Ledoyen). She has left him for her psychiatrist, Dr Wolf (Pascal Elbe).
Pignon is a pest. One wonders if his given name, the French version of the author’s, is autobiographical for L’Emmerdeur is the film version of his play that Veber had apparently been trying to make for a long time?
Many of the lines and set pieces are Marx Brothers-ish and the side story of the reason the prisoner and his SWAT protectors take so long to get to the courthouse provides some good humour, especially when featuring a young couple on a stolen scooter.
Berry is impressive as the hit man with the ability to turn off his meanness to get what he wants and Timsit is credible as the hapless husband, whose behaviour wanders from needing to be protected to plainly annoying. However, casting Ledoyen as the love interest was a mystery. Even in France, one cannot imagine someone so beautiful marrying such an obvious schmuck. Then again, they say love is blind and the attractive Louise has obviously had her eyes opened enough to have left Pignon and her choice of men is exposed as being even poorer because Dr Wolf is a self-serving cad.
L’Emmerdeur is a film worth seeing – a comedy that makes you laugh, which I suppose is the point. If it hasn’t been done already, look for Hollywood to copy this immediately, using de Niro as the hit man and Albert Brooks as the pain in the ass.