by Greg Muskewitz
Zany, lurid comedies are a dime a dozen compared to the subtle, mature comedies that are often funnier than the commonplace ones, but goofy movies like “The Closet” (“Le Placard”) don’t have to be grossly over-the-top or interminably randy to still be ridiculously amusing. (Though it goes without saying that I would prefer Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri’s “The Taste of Others” or “Un Air de Famille” any day over Francis Verber’s “The Closet” or “The Dinner Game.”)The simpleton concept comedy focuses on François Pignon (Daniel Auteuil), considered by many — including his ex-wife and son — a dullard, a bore. On the brink of suicide after finding he’s going to be fired at the condom factory he has slaved away at for some time, his new neighbor, an industrial psychologist (Michel Aumont) advises him to pretend he’s gay. Or in François’ words, “I came out of the closest I never went into.” By posing as a homosexual, his firing would be looked upon as if it were based on his sexuality, so the company wouldn’t want to take that chance. To his relief, François is kept aboard, and suddenly he has become the interest of his office. In addition to all the new-found attention, one of his co-workers, Félix (Gérard Depardieu), who usually taunts and embarrasses him, is tricked into believing he’ll be fired if he keeps up his typical harassment. In a turn of events, Félix suffers a breakdown and gets in touch with his feminine side.
"Playing the French reputation in a neutered version."
A lot of the humor is very elementary, very repetitious, very gag-related, but director Francis Verber never tries to disguise his movie as anything else, so it gently works. It tends to be at the expense of the characters that we’re laughing at, like many of the roles Ben Stiller takes, and though Verber tends to be a little double-sided and reprimanding on the audience (though not nearly in the same belittling fashion that Lasse Hallström uses), he, too, is guilty of poking fun at subject matter without thinking twice about it. Verber (also the writer) doesn’t seem to care about the people he depicts, and from François’ transformation from “drag to fag,” he doesn’t lightly assault the homosexual community. “The Closet” is peppered with references like “fag,” “flamer,” “fruit,” “fruitcake,” “fairy,” “faggot,” “dyke,” etc. Verber seems to enjoy making you loathe characters for their natural personality (just like he did in “The Dinner Game,” a/k/a “Le diner de cons”) and then condemning you for partaking in the laughing. Though it tends to especially hurt Hallström’s movies like “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?,” with Verber, it just makes him look like a flippant philistine. There’s no point feeling bad about laughing since the situations tend to be on the funnier side. They’re no paradigms of comedy, but there’s still a universality in it. (Verber’s next movie is “Dinner for Schmucks” with Kevin Kline, which I think is a remake of his “The Dinner Game.” I can imagine that all this mean-spiritedness will begin swelling fast.)
The other positive aspect about “The Closet” is just to see the well-respected French actors Auteuil and Depardieu flexing their comedic talents, because both have the timing and skills to do such. The duo have worked together on a number of occasions — Claude Berri’s “Jean de Florette” comes to mind as one of their best collaborations — and to see them in such a frivolous, inconsequential situation is a nice change of scene.
As a side note, one of the choices that François made that befuddled me, was why he wanted to remain deceiving his son on his sexuality. I never understood why the son was all that interested in it in the first place (even though the son denied it, I think he was the one who was really gay), but for him to think it was cool seems a tad suspicious. In the end, François was still well-liked by all, so why wouldn’t his son by happy for that?
With Michèle Laroque, Thierry Lhermitte, Stanislas Crevillén and Jean Rochefort.Final Verdict: B-.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5370&reviewer=172
originally posted: 07/10/01 10:03:15