Written and directed by Francis Veber
Starring: Gad Elmaleh,
Alice Taglioni, Daniel Autueil,
Kristin Scott Thomas.
MPAA RATING: PG-13
Francis Veber is indisputably a master farceur, counting among his frothy successes La Cage aux Folles and more recently, The Dinner Game, for which he richly deserved his Cesar award for best screenplay.
In The Valet (La Doublure), wide-eyed, sadly charming Gad Elmaleh plays Francois Pignon, a parking valet at a tony Parisian bistro whose girlfriend Emilie (Virginie Ledoyen) doesn’t want to marry him. When billionaire Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil) is photographed in public with his mistress, supermodel Elena (Alice Taglioni), with Pignon walking by at the moment the picture is snapped, the wheels are set in motion. When it hits the papers, Levasseur hires Pignon to platonically live with Elena to convince his wife Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas) he is not having an affair with her.
Veber is a master craftsman but here, in this 85 minute confection, he cheats a bit on crucial plot developments, like Emilie falling back in love with Pignon without any discussion.. There are plenty of plot complications but verbal and physical humor seems rather minimal. Auteuil, who is one of those rare actors who excels at both drama and comedy, goes into an amusing rage when curtains are put up in Pignon’s shabby apartment, as he assumes Elena is really having sex with him. Elmaleh is a nice sad sack, Danny Boon is his charming loser valet pal and Richard Berry is a likeably slimy financial advisor to Levasseur.
It is the women who generally fare poorly in their roles. Ledoyen has little to do but to moon about, looking disconsolate. Scott Thomas is better suited to dramatic roles and as the supermodel, Taglioni fits the stereotype perfectly: pretty, skinny, legs to up her chin and no acting ability to speak of. It is hard to criticize the man who created a world-class farce in The Dinner Game, but here, Veber’s Valet is driving with the parking brake on.