The plot description of the new, French feel-good-ish dramedy Two Is Family (Demain tout commence)? A womanizer gets stuck with a baby daughter he didn’t know he had, goes abroad, where he improbably becomes a stuntman and the best father ever, and then gets into a custody battle when his kid’s mother turns up again eight years later. Sound familiar? That’s because this is a direct remake of the 2013 Spanish-language dramedy Instructions Not Included, which was a huge box-office success both at home in Mexico and the U.S., with the film making about $45 million on each side of the border.
Instructions was the kind of film that turned out to be a critical dud but a major crowdpleaser and in that sense at least, Family is a perfect remake. Casting Intouchables breakout star and recent Jurassic World and Inferno bit player Omar Sy in the lead helped the film off to a solid start when it was released in France Dec. 7, with the film reaching the 1-million-admissions threshold in 12 days, all but ensuring it will be one of France’s five most popular local films of the year.
‘Two’ is a mess.
French ladies’ man Samuel (Sy) unexpectedly finds himself on a plane to London after a Franco-British one-night stand from last summer leaves her baby daughter in his arms and then simply leaves. His naïve plan: dump the child right back into mommy’s lap and go back to his hedonistic paradise on the Cote d’Azur. But of course things don’t go as planned and Sam stays in London, becoming a stuntman after meeting a chunky, alternatively jovial and creepy French producer working in the U.K., Bernie (Quebec actor Antoine Bertrand). Before you know it, Sam’s got a flourishing career in a TV series as the double of the main lead (played, in one of the film’s meta-winks, by Omar Sy’s regular stunt double) and his daughter has grown up to be a sassy young girl, Gloria (Gloria Colston).
The film’s first act is full of mixed messages that lead to an unsteady, fluctuating tone (a problem that also plagued director Hugo Gelin’s previous film, Comme des frères, which never traveled anywhere beyond France). The problem, to an extent already present in Instructions Not Included, is that the characters don’t believably grow from one type of person into another. The way Guelin and co-screenwriters Mathieu Oullion and Jean-Andre Yerles tell it, anyone who wants to transform himself from someone ready to dispose of a helpless baby quickly so he can continue cavorting with two long-legged ladies in bikini bottoms into the World’s Greatest Single Dad For Gloria needs just a simple fast-forward to eight years later.
The character of Sam’s London-based savior/buddy is similarly saddled with several incompatible notions apparently existing within him at the same time: Bernie is a gay predator hot for Sam’s ass; someone who thinks Sam could be a homeless person and someone who then magically transforms himself Sam’s support system in the U.K. — Sam refuses to learn any English, which is supposedly funny — and an unthreatening, kid-friendly gay uncle for Gloria without seemingly breaking a sweat.
All these literally unbelievable transfigurations, however, pale in comparison to the film’s most ill-conceived character, a young woman named Kristin Stuart (yes, really!). She’s the completely irresponsible, Franco-British mom of Gloria who one day just dumped her daughter into a stranger’s lap and then leaves for eight years. But what’s worse, she then comes back, like a Ghost From a Bad Movie Past, to — spoilers ahead — claim her daughter, with the case ending up in the British courts, where Sam still doesn’t speak any English though he supposedly does very dangerous work for a living on one of Britain’s hottest TV series. Right. Clemence Poesy, aka Fleur Delacour from the Harry Potter movies, has the thankless task of playing this vat of swirling contradictions but the deck of screenplay-howlers and about-faces is so vastly stacked against her she has trouble doing more than just say her lines.
Escapism-oriented audiences might not so cynically be looking for any signs of recognizable human behavior from the leads as this critic. And it has to be said that the relationship between Gloria and Sam, in the middle portion of the film, is as cute a prolonged TV commercial in which everything is perfectly choreographed, scored and full of cute father-daughter sentiments even though we never really get to know them as people instead of avatars of their respective family roles.
In short, their sugary, highly idealized rapport has some fuzzy-feeling inducing potential and Sy has palpable chemistry with his pint-sized costar (who, though she supposedly grew up in the U.K. with a Francophone single dad and at a French school, has a fat American accent). But, like in the film’s predecessor, the promise of further feel-good developments is — again, spoilers ahead — nibbed in the bud by a major plot twist, which is shakily foreshadowed with plenty of red herrings (supposedly for those who haven’t seen the original). But even this transformation from unsteady comedy-drama into a full-on three-hankie weepie is handled in an ungainly and spluttering way that highlights the unseemly plot machinations more than they are smoothed out or hidden in plain sight behind characters behaving in ways that seem to flow from who they are and what they want out of life.
Shot on lush locations in France and the U.K., the film clearly had a comfortable budget. For the next film, perhaps some of this budget could be allocated to get a screenwriter who knows how to write complex, recognizable human beings rather than walking contradictions stuck in a game of plot-twist pile-on.
Production companies: Mars Films, Vendome Production, Poisson Rouge Pictures, TF1 Films Production, Korokoro, Pantelion Films
Cast: Omar Sy, Clemence Poesy, Antoine Bertrand, Gloria Colston, Ashley Walters, Raphael Von Blumenthal, Clementine Celarie, Anna Cottis, Raquel Cassidy, Howard Crossley
Director: Hugo Gelin
Screenplay: Hugo Gelin, Mathieu Oullion, Jean-Andre Yerles, based on the film Instructions Not Includedwritten by Guillermo Rios, Leticia Lopez Margalli and Eugenio Derbez
Producers: Philippe Rousselet, Stephane Celerier
Director of photography: Nicolas Massart
Production designer: Emmanuelle Duplay
Costume designer: Isabelle Mathieu
Editors: Gregoire Sivan, Valentin Feron
Music: Rob Simonsen
Casting: Michael Laguens
No rating, 118 minutes