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Five (2016)
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by Jay Seaver

"'I'll be there for you' en français."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I'm not sure who first described sitcoms like "Friends" as belonging to a comedy subgenre along the lines of "young people living in downtown apartments they can't possibly afford", but the description is often apt even after making allowances for what can practically be shot. Few examples of the genre ever actually own up to that description like "Five" does, though, and even if it's not really a satire or parody of that kind of comedy, I wouldn't be surprised if that was where filmmaker Igor Gotesman started, with the pretty funny sequence of events on-screen following naturally even as they get out of control.

The apartment is a sweet five-bedroom in the heart of Paris, one room for each of five friends: Timothée (François Civil), a marijuana enthusiast currently on his fourth freshman year, none of them for subjects related to his natural talent in the kitchen; Nestor (Idrissa Hanrot), a grad student easily distracted by any pretty girl that comes along; Samuel (Pierre Niney), who tells his rich father that he is in medical school while really pursuing his dream of acting; Julia (Margot Bancilhon), our level-headed but sarcastic narrator; and Vadim (Igor Gotesman), her hypochondriac best friend since they were four. While the others can only afford about 500 euros per month, Sam is happy to pay the balance, but just as the others are moving in, his father finds out his son is not a doctor and cuts him off. And rather than letting the others know, he gets a new job as a restaurant's parking valet, with a sideline in weed. Of course, that is not the most stable business model. In the meantime, Tim is developing a crush on Julia, but it turns out that she and Vadim have been together for a year, and they're actually a bit worried about how to keep it secret now that they'll all be living together.

Though set up as an ensemble picture, it's Samuel's adventures in trying not to let his friends down - including acting-class mentor Madame Simone (Michèle Moretti) and potential girlfriend Maia (Lucie Boujenah) - that keeps everything moving, so it's kind of important that Pierre Niney rise to the occasion in that part, and that he does is a big part of why the movie works. Sam is introduced as kind of privileged and silly, and Niney plays him as having the sort of innocence that comes of not having heard the word "no" a lot, but he's also clearly afraid of it, so even though he's effervescent and optimistic throughout, there's something very relatable about how he deals with problems that will initially leave everybody fairly comfortable even if they're not solved. It doesn't hurt that writer/director/co-star Igor Gotesman makes sure to write Samuel as far from stupid, but actually kind of ingenious, and Niney is able to sell a lot of funny moments with that off-kilter intelligence.

I suspect that the rest of the characters may not have seen their roles scale up quite as much from Gotesman's original 2011 short film, and it's probably no coincidence that one of the ones that does, Tim, is also played by one of the two returning actors, François Civil. He's genuinely hilarious, getting a lot of the weirdest comic material and rolling with it, getting a ton of laughs. The rest of the main cast - Goteseman (the other returnee), Idrissa Hanrot, and Margot Bancilhon - don't get quite so many chances to shine, but seldom stumble, and most importantly play off each other well, especially Bancilhon. As the only woman of the group, her job often seems to be breaking up a scene visually, but she's also the assertive one who makes things happen when they need to work together, and she can also drop sarcasm into a scene without seeming nasty about it.

There's also a good group of supporting performances, all of whom do something funny or off-kilter to make the movie work. Lucie Boujenah is a sweet love interest for Sam as Maia, and Michèle Moretti a tart, grounding mentor. Pascal Demolon and Bruno Lochet get some of the film's biggest laughs as the potential client and supplier for the gang's big drug deal, genuine eccentrics who will send the scenes they're in spinning several times in the space of a few minutes. Special credit must also be given to Fanny Ardant, who may set a new high water mark in terms of "celebrities being a good sport while playing themselves".

There's an upbeat sensibility to the movie that makes the jokes work even better that already good material might, too. Gotesman fills his movie with some cheerily low-brow humor, but doesn't quite rub the audience's face in the farts, bloody noses, and less-pleasant things, getting the idea across and moving on. He's got the knack for coming up with a story that has some actual stakes without trivializing them or making things too serious, and while his script isn't perfect - there's a couple instances of explaining his references and a real rush at the end to loop around to the beginning that seems to completely overlook a big thing from ten minutes earlier - he's also good at putting a bunch of jokes into a scene and playing them just right so that they don't collapse.

I'd be kind of surprised if "Five" isn't picked up for an English-language remake sooner rather than later, although if it is, I hope it inolves Gotesman as director - it's definitely a movie that's more about the execution than the big idea. The bigger hope is that it gets an Americna release at all; the ensemble is what really makes Gotesman's comic sense work, and it's unlikely to be perfectly replicated.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=30682&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/16/16 03:55:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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