A group of Parisian friends head out to a summer house for their annual holiday, leaving one of their number, Ludo (Jean Dujardin), in hospital after an accident. Secrets and relationship troubles put a strain on their friendships and threaten their holiday.
The decision is, of course, yes, and a comedic vacation drama ensues. Characters are well-developed and running jokes deliver. First up, married Vincent (Benoît Magimel) decides that he’s in love with his friend Max: a straight, uptight control freak who’s both horrified and confused by the declaration. Instead of tackling this head-on, Max lets it fester, and his already substantial anger-management problem threatens to explode amid the bemusement of his holidaying friends. It’s an amusing and occasionally sensitive portrait of two male friends struggling with complicated, unexpected emotions.
The biggest laughs come from the recently jilted Antoine (Laurent Lafitte), who’s obsessing about text messages from his ex and boring each member of the group in turn with his attempts at analysis. Cotillard’s Marie, meanwhile, is a single woman who seems to find little comfort in handsome lovers and slightly more in smoking weed. While their actions are exaggerated for comic effect, these aren’t stereotypes: they’re probably a lot like people you know.
While sharp character observations keep the black comedy going strong, this is slightly less successful on the dramatic front. It’s fitfully poignant, but the closing idea is that all of these self-obsessed friends have been telling each other lies for years — lies that all spill out under pressure. It’s an over-simplification of what is, essentially, a portrait of a group of mates on holiday. Unfortunately, trying to shoehorn it into a theme doesn’t really work.
It’s also hard to relate to their apparent neglect of their hospitalised friend, who only comes into their thoughts occasionally. Canet finally tackles this theme when many will be shifting in their seats: at 154 minutes, this is far from the breezy little comedy it first appears. Still, as ensemble relationships dramas go, this one’s well worth taking the rough with the smooth.
It’s overlong, but with its gorgeous cast, irreverent humour and beautifully drawn characters, this smart comedy-drama is the kind of movie Couples Retreat and Grown Ups should have been. Please, nobody let Adam Sandler anywhere near a remake.
Reviewed by Anna Smith