Palatable: Standing Tall

Standing Tall (2015)
Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot
Written by Emmanuelle Bercot, Marcia Romano
Produced by François Kraus, Denis Pineau-Valencienne
Starring Rod Paradot, Catherine Deneuve, Benoit Magimel, Sara Forestier, Diane Rouxel, Elizabeth Mazev, Anne Suarez, Christophe Meynet
Prepubertal years influenced by his screwy, slutty, irresponsible mother (Forestier) lead to a criminal course through foster families, juvenile homes, stretches in rehabilitative facilities and briefly prison, to the ultimate reclaim of a teen joyrider (Paradot) whose precipitant recidivism is dishabituated with the ministration of his compassionate counselor (Magimel), his firm, boyish girlfriend (Rouxel) and a juvenile court’s judge (Deneuve) assigned to his decadal case. This is far better than Bercot’s underwhelming, antecedent On My Way for its moving, unusually wholesome story, and acting that subtilizes rather shallow characters. Deneuve flawlessly underplays her jurist to no disappointment, but neophyte Paradot is a standout who incandescently expresses callow rage, sorrow and tenderness without veering into melodrama. Numerous social workers employed at detention centers also play themselves quite well. Bercot’s and Romano’s barely didactic tale observes simply in its conclusion that paternity’s often an effective means of reformation.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Sweet Sixteen or The 400 Blows, especially for those who care to observe how much more lenience France’s juvenile delinquents enjoy 56 years later.

Mediocre: On My Way

On My Way (2013)
Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot
Written by Emmanuelle Bercot, Jérôme Tonnerre
Produced by Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier, Christine De Jekel
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Némo Schiffman, Gérard Garouste, Camille, Claude Gensac, Paul Hamy, Mylène Demongeot, Hafsia Herzi, Séréphin Ngakoutou Beninga

One would be in less danger
From the wiles of the stranger
If one’s own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.

–Ogden Nash, Family Court

Her iconic visage and surname have adorned innumerable advertisements; upon fairly few as this dull drama’s theatrical posters and billboards has it been so conspicuously, necessarily engrossed, for she’s prime among its few assets. When her relationship with a unfaithful lover sours simultaneous to the seizure of her eatery for arrearage, Deneuve’s restaurateur and whilom Miss Brittany is opportunely at liberty to attend a reunion of regional rivals for the title of Miss France (c.’69), and escort her bedevillingly bratty grandson (Schiffman) to the rural residence of his gruff, agnatic grandfather (Garouste) while her dyspeptic daughter (Camille) pursues an internship. Bercot slavishly observes the bromidic burden and stale scenario of archetypically post-feminine road movies, in most of which a protagonist abandons her responsibilities and their collateral cumbers to embrace personal, imperative intangibles as she “finds herself.” If her perdurable leading lady’s unshakable credibility and idiosyncratically perfect performance buoy this production to the surface of mediocrity, it’s still weighted there by the cliches and contrivances of its directress’s bourgeois quasi-progressivism: every independently enterprising bachelor (Hamy, a smarmy chapman of smuggled cigarettes) is a lascivious sleazebag, yet cantankerous politicians of the mainstream left (Garouste’s socialist mayoral candidate) are catches; the sole black stranger (Beninga, as an affable security guard) is nobly empathetic; crabby careerists unfit for motherhood aren’t portrayed as negligent in their life’s most significant undertaking, and their equally, obnoxiously waspish children are to be deemed adorable. A few scenes suit their star’s charm, as when she confabulates with an elderly farmer who laboriously rolls her a cigarette during the first act, participates in a united photoshoot with her peers in the second, and enjoys romance and rapprochement in the third, but these vignettes seem intervallically inharmonious with the peeving postmodernism of the whole. Withal, Bercot’s nepotism bears mixed results: her partner and DP, Guillaume Schiffman, lenses vividly idyllic scenery alfresco contributing to the pastoral ambience and beauty complementing her scanty story, but their son’s unendurable as the miffing stripling. Naturally, Deneuve and the cast’s contemporary boomers outshine their junior co-stars. Despite Bercot’s basic capability, her script co-written with Tonnerre is comprised of fluff exceeding substance, plodding at the velocity of a crippled snail. Rufus Wainwright’s maudlin whine and typically twee tunes by Sufjan Stevens and The Divine Comedy render two crucial scenes and conclusive credits plainly exquisite. This is only, scarcely recommended for Deneuve’s devotees; even when it flails, she shines.