Like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm jacked up on steroids, French actor-director Guillaume Canet’s latest movie, Rock’n Roll, takes the self-deprecating — or is that self-aggrandizing? — celebrity satire genre to new extremes.
Featuring Canet as himself and real-life partner Marion Cotillard as herself, along with a cast of cameoing local talents, this slyly conceived midlife crisis comedy follows the 42-year-old star on a long and destructive ego trip that goes from funny to downright bananas over the course of two somewhat overstretched hours. There’s plenty to chew on for French film fans, who are sure to appreciate all the inside jokes about their industry, although Canet and Cotillard’s earnest and at times hilarious performances could help push this very Gallic affair into overseas markets.
A well-told inside joke.
Canet is perhaps best known in America for playing the young Frenchie with an attitude in Danny Boyle’s The Beach, while locally he’s had memorable roles in movies ranging from small auteur efforts (Next Time I’ll Aim for the Heart, A Better Life) to commercial crowdpleasers (Joyeux Noel, The Players). He has an even better track record in France as a filmmaker, including his breakout thriller Tell No One (which grossed $6 million for its stateside release) and his weepie ensemble dramedy Little White Lies (which took in a whopping 5 million-plus admissions), although he hit a wall with his first English-language effort, Blood Ties, which flopped at Cannes and tanked in the U.S. despite a hefty $25 million budget.
Back on his more comfortable home turf and turning the camera on himself in surprising ways, Canet manages to deliver a fresh celeb sendup here that doesn’t shy away from the uglier side of star power, with “uglier” taking on various meanings as the script (co-written with Philippe Lefebvre and Rodolphe Lauga) heads to some outré places in the last act.
Things start off calmly enough, however, when Canet begins shooting a movie for a director friend (Lefebvre), starring opposite model-turned-actress Camille Rowe. The hitch is that he’s not only playing a priest but also her dad — a fact that deals a significant blow to Canet’s ego, especially when Rowe explains in an interview how her co-star is not “rock ‘n’ roll” enough for younger generation actors like herself.
Canet quickly grows obsessed with his age and appearance, although when he tries to complain about it to Cotillard, with whom he lives and has a young son, she’s too involved with her own career to hear him. “You can only play stutterers or amputees!” he snaps back at her at one point, referring to Cotillard’s parts in movies like Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World and Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone. But her latest role is even worse: She’s studying up on her Quebecois for a Dolan film and insists on speaking the most drastic form of that language, French subtitles included.
The running gag will be lost on non-French speakers, although Cotillard offers up such a sincere performance that you can’t help but laugh. Canet also doesn’t mind playing the fool, but does so in a low-key and understated way that’s far from the overwrought style of most Gallic comedies. There’s a matter-of-factness to both their turns, as well as to bit parts by actors like Gilles Lellouche or Yvan Attal, that is a welcome change to typical French fodder, although a cameo by rock legend Johnny Hallyday is a bit silly and only meaningful if you know who he is.
That joke and several others may fall on deaf ears for those who are not already in on them, but no one will be confused by the turn the story takes later on when Canet, after having gone through a laughable party-boy phase and failing to have sex with either Cotillard, Rowe or anyone else, decides to take matters into his own hands by undergoing a significant change to his physique. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Mickey Rourke comes to mind and that the results are far from pretty.
They are impressively lifelike, though, with kudos to the film’s makeup and VFX crew, but the transformation is also so over-the-top that Rock’n Roll eventually loses some of the verisimilitude that made it work. At the same time, Canet deserves credit for going to such extremes — even if his conceit runs a bit long — and for taking the satire to the point of no return, rather than offering up the kind of easy reconciliation seen in most pics about the film business. In some ways it’s a brave move, though one could also argue that it’s the ultimate case of selling out. Either way, Canet gets the last laugh.
Production company: Les Productions du Tresor
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Marion Cotillard, Gilles Lellouche, Philippe Lefebvre, Camille Rowe, Yvan Attal, Johnny Hallyday
Director: Guillaume Canet
Screenwriters: Guillaume Canet, Philippe Lefebvre, Rodolphe Lauga
Producer: Alain Attal
Director of photography: Christophe Offenstein
Production designer: Philippe Chiffre
Costume designer: Carine Sarfati
Editor: Herve de Luze
Casting director: Laurent Couraud
Sales: Pathe International