The Closet (Le Placard) Movie Review

Although Francis Veber's "The Closet" is billed as a comedy, it's not clear at first what sense of humor it might have. The prolific French director has been known to make screwball comedies ("Le jouet"), social commentary comedies ("La cage aux folles") and even cruel, dark comedies ("Le diner des cons," aka "The Dinner Game").

Since "The Closet" is about a miserably-divorced, middle-aged, middle-management sad sack (Daniel Auteuil), all the early indicators pointed to it being one of those melancholy, sad-clown French comedies that have a tendency to become quickly tiresome.

Auteuil wakes up the morning after learning he's about to be fired and stares dejectedly out his large kitchen window like nothing more could go wrong in his life.

Then in a genre-defining slapstick moment worthy of a Charlie Chaplin flick, his morning toast pops out of the toaster -- and shoots right out the open window. Auteuil doesn't even blink. He just stares at the wall, one cheek of his long face cupped pathetically in an upturned palm.

"The Closet" gets really nutty after his gay next door neighbor (Michel Aumont) suggests Auteuil partake in a bit of deception to save his job: Let word leak out that he's homosexual (which he's not) in such a public way that the company (which makes condoms) would not only fear a discrimination lawsuit if they let him go, but also risk the backlash of a key consumer demographic besides.

Of course a sit-commy plot like this doesn't come without its complications. Auteuil keeps his job but the company now expects him to ride their gay pride parade float -- with a condom-shaped hat on his head. Women in the office are suddenly attracted to him as a challenge for seduction. His disaffected, cynical teenage son suddenly finds him fascinating and cool. The ex-wife he's still in love with is suddenly interested in figuring out what makes him tick.

But funniest of all is the obnoxiously macho, dumb lug co-worker (Gerard Depardieu in a hilariously uncouth performance) who now thinks his own job is in jeopardy if he doesn't suck up to our hero. He does so by nervously taking Auteuil out to dinner, buying him a pink cashmere sweater and making other gestures that give the entirely wrong impression.

Veber, who also wrote the screenplay, nimbly weaves some sincere castigations of homophobia (gay-bashers mug Auteuil after seeing him pick up his son from school and concluding he's a pedophile) in with the steady parade of smart, gut-busting gags. But he isn't afraid to paint outside the lines of political correctness at the same time, angling for subversive laughs from the blatantly prejudiced dialogue of Depardieu and other bigots.

However, it's Auteuil's droll yet measured performance as the comedy's straight man (so to speak) -- an insincere office sycophant suddenly empowered by his fabricated "outing" -- that gives "The Closet" the sympathetic warmth it needs to be so rambunctiously, amusingly indiscriminate with its wit.

Veber has no qualms about selling remake rights to Hollywood ("The Toy," "The Man With One Red Shoe," "Quick Change," "Three Fugitives," "The Birdcage," "Fathers Day,"), often with disastrous results. So see "The Closet" now before somebody ruins an American version by casting Robin Williams and scrubbing clean all its wanton wackiness.


Comments

The Closet (Le Placard) Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, Opened: Friday, June 29, 2001

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