Judge Brett Cullum says that this allegedly gay-themed French comedy is more Doubtfire than La Cage.
"My wife Maurice…um…Marion!"—Georges
Jean-Marie Poire has had a tough act to follow after his 1993 film Les Visiteurs broke all sorts of box office records in France and arthouse cinemas worldwide. He keeps struggling with trying to find that next elusive hit, and so we come to Ma Femme…S'Appelle Maurice (or My Wife Maurice here in the States). It sure seemed like a no-brainer. Take a runaway stage hit, cast the same leads, and then sprinkle in international stars from every corner of the European Community. Warner Brothers even bankrolled the film, and it had pretty high production values. Well…it was a hit in Russia, and that was pretty much the high-point of the film's theatrical release. It bombed all over the place—in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Critics were vicious, and rarely gave the film even a passing mark. The nicer reviews accused it of being "unfunny," "not in good taste," and "puerile." Then something odd happened—the movie became a minor hit on the North American Gay and Lesbian film festival circuit, even though it had nothing to say about being gay.
The film starts off with dowdy businessman Georges Audfey (Phillipe Chevallier) taking his stunning young mistress Emanuelle (Alice Evans, 102 Dalmations) to Venice for a vacation of gorgeous hotel rooms and shopping. She doesn't know he is still married, and goes ballistic when she finds out his divorce is not final or even in the works. She ties him up to the bed, and then whips out a torch (usually used on crème brulèe) and threatens to burn off his manhood. He narrowly escapes, and runs back to his posh digs in the Montmartre section of Paris, where his suspicious wife is waiting. They fight a little; she storms out, leaving him in the company of an oddly obsessive charity worker named Maurice (Regis Laspales) who has come to collect old clothes for the less fortunate. While Maurice is trying to cajole Georges into helping, Emanuelle calls and warns Georges she is coming over with a chainsaw in hand to meet his wife. What can Georges do? He begs Maurice to put on a dress and pose as his wife to scare her off. And from there we get a comedy of manners, where Maurice has to prove that he is in touch enough with his feminine side to pull off the charade Georges wants him to. Meanwhile, two other sets of visitors are heading to the apartment. One is a couple sent by the wife to look at buying the apartment, and the other is a very jealous German paratrooper (Gotz Otto, Tomorrow Never Dies, Schindler's List) who is in love with Emanuelle. You can safely bet that before the movie is over everyone is going to think Maurice is really a woman, the apartment is going to be trashed, and somehow everyone will take a spill down a flight a stairs or into a coffee table.
TLA Releasing has put My Wife Maurice on their "International Film Festival" label, and mistakenly claims that it's about a cross-dresser on the cover and in their catalog. Let me set the record straight: Maurice is not a cross-dresser. He's a dude in a dress because someone asks him to do it (not that he seems to mind too much, but this is not a lifestyle for Maurice). Nobody in this film is gay—it really is a silly film along the lines of Mrs. Doubtfire. It's about as gay as that. Regis Laspales, who plays Maurice, and Phillipe Chevallier, who plays Georges, are a famous comedy team in France, and often work together in a troupe like the Kids in the Hall or Monty Python. They were both in the original theatrical production of this story, and it shows. They have great chemistry and an innate sense of where the comedy is. Both actors give great farcical pratfalls, and keep their balls bouncing while on-screen. It's basically a straight version of 1978's real cross-dressing hit La Cage Aux Folles.
The movie is simple French farce, where the innocent fool becomes the one with all the power. Maurice is a simpleton, but by the end of the movie he has changed everyone he comes in contact with (whether he's in a dress or not). The problem with My Wife Maurice as farce is it lags a little in the middle act. It starts off fast and furious, and ends that way as well, but in the middle it kind of lopes along waiting for something to kick it back into the stratosphere. It's a common problem with stage productions that become movies. They add unnecessary scenes to open the show up for film, and it messes with the pace in a detrimental way. American viewers may have some problems with the farce pacing, because these characters speak fast and it's a chore to keep up with the subtitles.
So is it worth a look? I say, despite the bad reviews, it certainly fits the bill if you are looking for light frothy farce. The color palette is wacky and bright, and hardly anything about the movie is a downer even though its about adultery and revenge. The transfer is nicely done, and the audio is fine. It may not be a laugh-riot, but I will admit it is a giggle-fest. I really liked Alice Evans and Gotz Otto in their roles as the mistress and her jealous boyfriend. Alice is English, and Gotz is German. They speak great fast French, and they're both sexy as hell when they have to get down to their underclothes (another staple of any farce). You could do a lot worse passing an afternoon with these silly people as they slap and fall all over the place. Not bad, but in comparison not up to La Cage Aux Folles either. Or Les Visiteurs, for that matter. So we set Jean-Marie Poire out to find his next hit, because even though this is passable…it's not a hit. More like a tickle! A French tickler.
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