- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

“The Valet” is a thoroughly delightful farce. It’s a tale of an ordinary man who finds himself in an extraordinary situation, and it’s made up of elements with which we’re all familiar: the love-hate relationship with the best friend, the rich guy with a sense of entitlement, the unappreciative girlfriend. And the best part is, writer-director Francis Veber has fun at every character’s expense.

With such universal humor, “The Valet” should appeal to everyone — rich and poor, young and old, American and non-American.

So I’m hesitant to report that “The Valet’s” original title is “La Doublure” and that this broadly appealing farce was made in France.

Americans are too subtitle-averse, but they shouldn’t wait for the Farrelly brothers’ remake of “The Valet” (the creators of “There’s Something About Mary” have already bought the rights). It’s hard to imagine this movie made funnier — and even xenophobes will find familiar faces.

The valet of the title has the same name as the everyman of some of Mr. Veber’s other films — Francois Pignon. He’s likably played here by Gad Elmaleh as a nice guy who visits his parents and just wants to settle down with his girlfriend. But Emilie (Virginie Ledoyen, “The Beach”) is too wrapped up in the struggling bookstore she owns to think about marriage.

Meanwhile, Pierre (“Cache’s” Daniel Auteuil, who played Pignon in “The Closet”) is trying to save his. He can’t resist the charms of his mistress, supermodel Elena (Alice Taglioni), although he resists her entreaties to leave his wife. Although his marriage to Christine (“The English Patient’s” Kristin Scott Thomas, proving perfectly bilingual) is cold, he can’t abandon her because she controls the company that’s made him rich.

So he’s understandably worried when his wife sees a photograph of Pierre and Elena. He sees another man in the shot and grabs his chance: That man, not Pierre, is Elena’s boyfriend. Christine is skeptical; the other man is rather dull looking to be dating a supermodel.

As you can guess, Pignon is that dull man, and the stage is set for a farce.

Pierre’s lawyer finds Pignon and asks if he’ll pretend to be Elena’s boyfriend for a while. “How much must I pay?” Pignon asks him. “No, we’ll pay you,” the confused lawyer responds. Pignon is taken aback. “To live with a supermodel?”

Mr. Veber’s international cast — Mr. Elmaleh was born in Morocco, and Miss Scott Thomas is British — execute his witty script to perfection. (Many of his others have been remade in America, including “The Birdcage.”) French vet Michel Aumont (also from “The Closet”) contributes a funny running gag as a doctor who’s sicker than his patients.

Miss Scott Thomas, not seen on-screen nearly enough these days, looks particularly ravishing in Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. (Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld puts in a cameo.) So, of course, do Miss Taglioni and Miss Ledoyen — what more could red-blooded American males want?

“Life’s complex for pretty people with dough,” Pignon tells Elena. But she reminds him, as “The Valet” reminds us, that some things are universal: “No, it’s simple, just like your life with Emilie. You’re unhappy, she’s unhappy, I’m unhappy, he’s unhappy.” The fun comes in watching them all sort it out.


TITLE: “The Valet” (“La Doublure”)

RATING: PG-13 (sexual content and language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Francis Veber in French with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes


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