Judge Daryl Loomis suffers from wing envy.
I want a remote control baby!
François Ozon has become one of my favorite active directors because his films constantly surprise me. He never makes the same film twice, going from musical comedy (8 Women) to tragic romance (5x2) to Hitchcockian suspense (Swimming Pool) to social satire (Sitcom), and rarely misses a beat. This time, he gives us a dose of magical realism and, though it's not necessarily his best work, Ricky is a fun and strange movie. Plus, there are a bunch of scenes with a baby hitting his head on things, and who doesn't love that?
Facts of the Case
Katie (Alexandra Lamy, Vive la vie) has raised her daughter Lisa (Mélusine Mayance) on her own for years. But after a chance encounter with Paco (Sergi López, Dirty Pretty Things) in the bathroom of her factory, she discovers that she's pregnant. Paco seems like a nice guy, though, so she tries to make a life with him. Nine months later, little Ricky is born, a beautiful baby boy, but Ricky's not like the other kids. He has extra parts that fly in the face of reason. It seems impossible, but this special gift makes everyone question themselves and what they thought possible.
Even if Ricky isn't Ozon's best piece of work, the director still amazes me with his ability to move from sinister to hilarious to a conclusion that is at once tragic and heartwarming. All in under 90 minutes, no less. Every piece works as well as the last, too, which may be the most amazing thing of all. At its heart, this is a love story that manifests in all the relationships in Katie's life: first her relationship with her daughter, then with Paco, then with Ricky. As a collective goal, they want to build themselves into a real family, and the complications that come with Ricky's uniqueness provide the obstacles in that road.
Without that piece, Ricky would be a mundane and lackluster romance between a pair of factory workers. That's how the magical realism works, though, by taking the utterly ordinary and placing into it something extraordinary. Then, we can see how the ordinary reacts and, hopefully, shed some light on the beauty of life, comment on society, and glean something about the characters in the process. In the case of Ricky, it mostly works, but Ozon doesn't go far enough in certain respects.
The film begins as a standard kitchen sink drama, complete with dour scenes of workers and little else aside from everyday life. Katie's chance meeting with Paco, their subsequent bathroom hookup, and the birth of Ricky come as no surprise, but Ozon never hints at what's to come. Instead, he slowly starts to weave dark strands into what what starts pretty breezy. It's subtle at first, but by the time the bruises on Ricky's body turn into blood in the crib, we can't help but agree when Katie accuses Paco of hurting their son. In spite of his vehement denials, she has little choice but to doubt and resent his story, so he leaves. By now, about halfway through the film, it's hard to tell where this thing is going, but then something magical happens.
Although Ricky's particular gift has been revealed too often in the promotion of the film, it is best for the story for it to remain a surprise. When it shows itself, though, it both exonerates Paco and sets us into a whole new type of film, one full of comedy and social commentary. Katie does her best to keep it quiet, but when the secret is revealed, nobody can contain their wonder. The doctors want to study the body and the media want to reveal the truth. Paco wants to make a buck off the miracle (probably the most reasonable suggestion of the film); in the end, nobody wins except for the viewers, who are treated to one of the strangest changes I've ever seen. Who could tell that I would start off fairly horrified at the child abuse angle, only to laugh out loud at the same baby falling off of dressers and running headlong into windows? It's surprises like this that have made Ozon such a premier filmmaker, but this is also where the film falters a little bit. When the public learns the truth about Ricky, Ozon has the chance to deliver a scathing commentary on the opportunism of the media. He starts to, but never really goes very far with it, preferring instead to focus on the family story. That story works, but this is one of the few cases I wish for a longer running time, to have the chance to see both parts play out in full.
Ozon's production comes off flawlessly, with brilliant performances and a beautiful aesthetic. Alexandra Lamy, a romantic comedy veteran, brings all her comedic and dramatic chops to the table, carrying the film on her back when things are normal and when things are nutty; she's perfect in the lead. Sergi López is his usual selfish, clueless, but ultimately good-hearted character. He's good, but not the most essential part of the film. Most surprising is Mélusine Mayance as Katie's daughter. In her first appearance on screen and at a very young age, she shows an uncanny level of maturity, especially given the situation she's in, both with the man usurping her mother's time and the brother she never expected. Part of that is written into the story, but much of it is Mayance realistically appearing more adult than her parents. The cinematography from Jeanne Lapoirie is gorgeous. Her work has graced many of Ozon's films and the look fits the bill perfectly, dark or light, whatever is required. Likewise, the score from Philippe Rombi, another Ozon veteran, has written music that is sometimes well-suited to the action and sometimes contrasts it sharply. Sometimes it feels great and sometimes it clashes, but such is the changing nature of the film. Ricky is a top-flight production across the board.
MPI, under the IFC Films label, has Ricky looking great on DVD, as well. The image looks near perfect, with colors that pop, even in the drabness were these people live. The effects look seamless and the detail is fantastic, especially now with me getting more and more used to high definition. The surround sound, too, is great. There is good separation and nice use of the rear channels and low end. The music and dialog are perfectly clear. Technically, I could ask no more from this disc. I wish there were a host of extras to talk about but, unfortunately, all we have is a trailer. It's too bad; Ozon is good at discussing his films and I'd have loved to hear what he had to say about Ricky.
Sure, if somebody were to ask me where to start with François Ozon, unless the person was some huge Gabriel García Marquez fan, Ricky would surely not be the first I'd recommend. It doesn't make this a bad film by any means, but in spite of its whimsy, it is less accessible and has less impact than much of his work. Still, it's a gorgeously filmed movie with fantastic performances, solid comedic moments and the kind of perverse world view that can scarcely come from anybody but Ozon. For established fans of the director, there is no reason not to soak up the magic of Ricky.
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