By Any Other Name: Patellerie & Delaporte’s Debut a Comfortably Forced Farce
Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patelliere’s co-directorial debut, What’s in a Name? is a comfortable, graciously performed adaptation of their hit, one-setting stage play about a volatile dinner party, and, in fact, has become one of the biggest blockbusters in the history of French film. Breezy, intellectual sparring that’s an equal mix of comedic timing and dark realizations amongst its five characters, the film manages to avoid feeling like a play on film, but its likeness to other, superior films dealing with similar familial unrest around the dinner table lends it a rather tired air, especially considering its insistence on easily attained resolution.
A mistaken pizza delivery brings us to the home of a professor, Pierre (Charles Berling) and Babu (Valerie Benguigui), his school teacher wife. She’s preparing a Moroccan cuisine for what appears to be a regular get together for them with Babu’s brother Vincent (Patrick Bruel), his fiancée Anne (Judith El Zein), and Babu’s childhood friend, Claude (Guillaume de Tonquedec). While Anne is significantly delayed, the rest of them begin dinner without her and Vincent shows a picture from Anne’s ultrasound earlier that day. After a guessing game about what Vincent and Anne plan to name their son, Vincent reveals that they’ve settled upon a rather, umm, controversial choice, which sparks a heated discussion amongst the group. As their evening wears on and Anne arrives, things become more heated and thus begins an evening of revelations.
After some heavy, if entertainingly rich narration that sounds freely lifted from the screenplay of Amelie, the film plays like a cross between something like The Dinner Game set at George and Martha’s (sans that lovely social lubricant, alcohol), the first act conflict concerning the naming of Vincent’s soon to arrive progeny feels forced, resulting in the hysterical unraveling of the evening.
So obnoxiously stretched out, the dilemma of the child’s name launches the film into a pretentious vacuum, its characters suddenly contorted into merely another group of privileged white people hell-bent on championing a political correctness perhaps meant as a blanket cure-all for any of their inevitable shortcomings. Whatever the case, Delaporte and Patelliere’s set-up casts a dubious shadow of disinterest when the squabbling turns to more standard secrets, like infidelities, questioning of sexual orientation, and their best kept secret criticisms about each other.
But as standard as all these various machinations have come to be in these gratifyingly cinematic truth telling endeavors that everyone probably fantasizes about having with their own kin, a trite finale, which moves us out of that claustrophobic living room, only serves to wrap things up a bit too neatly. What’s In a Name? is entertaining enough in that we keep watching its mini soap operas transpire eagerly, but there’s no resolution that justifies its forgettable redemptions.