There’s an interesting plot premise behind “Lolo,” a comedy by actress and director Julie Delpy (who starred in Richard Linklater’s trilogy “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight” and directed the comedies “2 Days in Paris” and “2 Days in New York”). Unfortunately, the movie squanders its own potential, creaking horribly along instead of becoming the romantic situation comedy it might have been.
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Delpy is a charming and talented actress, but in this movie she has given herself a role she does not know how to handle, even though she co-wrote the screenplay (with Eugénie Grandval). Violette, a 40-something organizer of Paris fashion events, has not had a relationship with a man since her divorce. She goes on vacation in Biarritz with her uninhibited friend Ariane (Karin Viard), who – in the typical way of best friends in romantic comedies – has a sharper tongue and far freer sexual habits. She urges Violette to have a fling with a local, hoping that in this way, she can find at least one night’s reprieve from her usual stress levels.
And that’s how Violette ends up meeting Jean-René (Dany Boon), a computer programmer whose look, dress and behavior strike her and especially Ariane as the quintessence of provincial nerdiness. He is the kind of man in whom a sophisticated Parisian woman would supposedly never be really interested; but Jean-René, who is also divorced, wins Violette over with his kindness, and when he is sent to Paris for work, the affair continues.
As a provincial in the big city, he is proud of having rented an apartment in a new neighborhood that lacks any hint of Parisian charm; he is equally proud of the fact that from the same apartment, if you try very hard, you can see the very tip of the Eiffel Tower. That’s actually funny; but he’s also supposed to have trouble navigating Parisian traffic and wears the wrong kind of clothes to the glitzy social occasions he attends with Violette, and that part is more predictable and less amusing.
Violette and Jean-René’s relationship creates the movie’s main conflict, which involves Violette’s 19-year-old son, Lolo (Vincent Lacoste). Lolo, who considers himself an artist, has moved back in with his mother after a romantic breakup, and he will do anything to get Jean-René out of her life. What alarms him is not the latter’s provinciality, but the very fact that he is a man who threatens to take his place in Violette’s affections, and may even transform her from a lonely workaholic – a condition of which Lolo wholly approves – into a woman with an active romantic and sexual life.
Lolo is an immature, selfish and heartless young man, really a budding sociopath (and one of the most unpleasant cinematic characters we’ve seen for a while), but Violette sees none of it. He is the apple of her eye, but her obliviousness seems less like maternal devotion and more like stupidity and obtuseness. She is so blind to his faults that you just want to shake her and say (as some characters indeed try to do, but to no avail): “Listen, sorry to tell you this, but you raised a monster.”
The film, incidentally, says almost nothing about the absence of Lolo’s father and its impact on his son’s character and behavior. The audience is left to wonder what kind of role Lolo played in his parents’ breakup, making him the only man in his mother’s life. The movie also avoids the question of how Lolo’s dependence on his mother influences his relationships with women – he just broke up with a girlfriend, after all – but addressing this question would have added depth, something “Lolo” just doesn’t have.
The basic plot premise of “Lolo” could have been turned into an Oedipal comedy with melodramatic elements exploring the sources of Lolo’s twisted relationship with his mother. Delpy and Grandval, however, just don’t know what to do with the situation they have created. Instead of probing deeply into the mother-son bond, the movie entangles Lolo in a series of schemes aimed to make Violette change her mind about Jean-René.
Violette fails to realize that her new boyfriend keeps getting into trouble because of her son’s infantile machinations, until one of them turns ugly; and if something finally upsets her about her son’s rude, controlling and aggressive behavior, she forgives him immediately and refuses to hear anything negative said about him. She certainly will not hear any criticism of Lolo from Jean-René, who figures out the situation pretty quickly. Violette idolizes her son, and in one scene she even declares him to be the future of mankind.
The tricks Lolo devises to get Jean-René out of the picture are supposed to generate a series of comic situations, but the source of the tricks makes them unamusing. Only viewers who find it funny that Violette suspects Jean-René of having a sexually transmitted disease because the itching powder Lolo put in his clothes has caused him to break out in hives will consider the movie acceptable entertainment.
Perhaps Delpy wanted to explore not only Violette’s reawakening to a full life but her reeducation as a mother who needs to learn how to free herself from her son’s control. But between the immaturity of both Violette and Lolo and the choices made by the screenwriters, the result fails utterly. Occasionally we might detect a hint of irony and criticism in the movie’s treatment of Violette, but these get lost in the overall melee of events that lead the film to its doom.
“Lolo” has a serious theme, but this would not have kept it from being a comedy if Violette had not been such a bizarre, incoherent character, a fact that robs her relationships with both Lolo and Jean-René of validity. In her double capacity as director and actress, Delpy portrays Violette in such a way that her motherhood seems incompatible with her depiction as a woman looking for love and willing to find it in the most unlikely of places, and that is the root of her failure in “Lolo.”
To fill up some of its lacks, “Lolo” includes a brief foray by Violette and Ariane to Greece, where Ariane has a fling with a local man; there’s also a cameo appearance by the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who plays himself at an event that Jean-René manages to spoil, again due to Lolo’s schemes. Dany Boon, also a director and the star of other, more successful comedies, is the only sympathetic character in the movie. He plays Jean-René with charming composure, but seems to be suffering when the film forces him to endure Lolo’s tricks. In those scenes, Boon goes back to being the same beleaguered comedian he usually plays, only this time the source of his troubles is Delpy’s misguided cinematic choices.