‘L’Ideal’: Film Review

Author-director Frederic Beigbeder’s second feature is a French fashion industry parody.

Newsflash: The fashion world is filled with shallow egomaniacs who like to party hearty, exploit young women and make millions off the backs of ignorant consumers.

For those of us who will find this to be a major revelation, the new French comedy L’Ideal, from author-turned-director Frederic Beigbeder (Love Lasts Three Years), could be strewn as a profound work of anti-capitalist farce. But for everyone else — and that would be the majority — this lame attempt at shock cultural satire is at best a deeply flawed chic-sploitation flick, at worst a lazy and humorless embarrassment. Opening to modest returns at home, the film may have enough legs (and breasts and butts) to carry it overseas, where it could bring out the drooling teenage boy in every aging man.

The Bottom Line

C’est pas chic.

The 50-year-old Beigbeder broke onto the scene over a decade ago with his best-selling novel 99 Francs, which offered a fun and frenzied critique of the advertising business. (It was brought to the screen in 2007 with plenty of style, if little depth, by director Jan Kounen.) With several other books, columns, talk shows and a first feature (also adapted from one of his novels), he’s the type of highly televised homme de lettres that only France can produce.

But he can also come across as a total caricature of the horny and decadent Gallic intellectual — one who was arrested once for snorting coke off the hood of a car, has helped to revive a defunct Playboy-style magazine called Lui (the lead actress of L’Ideal is topless on this month’s cover) and is now hocking his wares in sexist clothing ads (so much for the “critique” part).

Whether or not this is all part of Beigbeder’s moneymaking schtick or whether he really is a completely misogynistic gadfly is hard to say, and his latest film certainly tries to blur the lines (in a Robin Thicke way) by tossing tons of nubile female bodies in our faces throughout most of its running time, then backtracking to tell us that this is all horribly wrong. Wishful thinking, maybe, although one thing is definitely clear: If the writer-director were paid each time someone in his movie used the term “bitch” or “slut” to describe a woman, he’d be both filthy and rich.

Meant to be a sort of sequel to 99 Francs, but much more of an outré fashion-biz parody (the title L’Ideal is a nod to cosmetic giant L’Oreal), the script — credited to Beigbeder and (count ‘em) four additional writers — follows antihero Octave (Gaspard Proust), who works as a model scout in Russia and swipes away potential recruits as if he were playing Tinder with the future of hundreds of teenage girls. Drunk, drugged out and surrounded by a harem of naked pleasure slaves, he’s soon called in by the titular corporation to find a new muse when their top model (played by actual top model Camille Rowe) leaks a sex tape in which she pledges allegiance to the Nazis.

The latter is clearly a reference to designer John Galliano, but, like everything in L’Ideal, the scene is so overwrought (Rowe grabs a tube of lube and says “I’m going to penetrate you like Poland!”) that you just have to roll your eyes at it. Perhaps Beigbeder is going for a sort of luxury brand comedie de boulevard, or else for the kind of probing satire found in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove — an obvious inspiration here, especially in the “war room” set-piece where the industry giant plots its world domination under CEO Carine Wang (played by actor Jonathan Lambert — because powerful women are … men in drag?).

Whatever Beigbeder’s intentions, the results are way below par, with a few decent one-liners amid a sea of gags that hit the floor like so many fashionistas overdosing on Quaaludes. The nonsense culminates in the film’s piece de resistance: a literal rollercoaster of a Russian bash that Octave attends with L’Ideal’s pregnant marketing guru Valentine (Audrey Fleurot), who inadvertently gets high and starts pole dancing, then wakes up in bed with her colleague who — in a running joke — couldn’t get it up the night before.

Let’s hope that at least didn’t happen to Beigbeder, who certainly has enough fodder for his libido here, with DP Gilles Porte capturing the parade of naked or semi-cloaked depravity in flashy widescreen compositions that look like makeup commercials themselves. Of course, all of this is meant to lead Octave and the audience to a third-act eureka where they realize — thanks to a plot twist involving yet another Russian beauty — that the fashion world isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

But it’s way too little, way too late, in a story that has Beigbeder strutting his sexism in full form, then doing a mea culpa at the last minute that never feels earned. He’s trying to have his cake (or is that coke?) and eat it, too, while we all wind up paying the price. Perhaps that’s his ideal.   

Production companies: Legende, Orange Studio, Le 12eme Art, Nexus Factory Umedia
Cast: Gaspard Proust, Audrey Fleurot, Anamaria Vartolomei, Jonathan Lambert, Camille Rowe-Pourcheresse
Director: Frederic Beigbeder
Screenwriters: Frederic Beigbeder, Nicolas Charlet, Bruno Lavaine, Yann Le Gal, Thierry Gounaud; based on the novel
Au secours pardon by Frederic Beidgbeder
Producer: Ilan Goldman
Director of photography: Gilles Porte
Production designer: Stanislas Reydellet
Costume designer: Nadia Chmilewksy
Editor: Dorian Rigal Ansous
Casting director: Nicolas Ronchi
Sales: Legende

In French

Not rated, 90 minutes