Playing as part of the 2012 CinÃ©franco Film Festival, You Don’t Choose Your Family (On ne choisit pas sa Famille) mixes slapstick with globalisation. Although its title sounds like the name of a rejected sitcom pilot from a few decades ago, this French comedy is deceptively contemporary.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing particularly new here, except maybe the film’s topic. You Don’t Choose Your Family tells the story of a lesbian couple, Kim and Alex (Muriel Robin and Helene Noguerra), who meet an adorable orphan named Maily while Kim is working on a television set in Thailand. They want to adopt Maily, but because of Thailand’s conservative adoption laws (not to mention Maily’s residence in a Catholic orphanage), Kim and Alex are forced to find an alternative. Enter Alex’s brother, CÃ©sar.
Played by Christian Clavier, CÃ©sar is a smarmy, broke luxury car salesman who dies his hair to excessive, crimson results. Since CÃ©sar shares a last name with Alex, they deem him the perfect stand-in husband. Unfortunately, CÃ©sar proves to be a lecherous sissy, which doesn’t mesh well with Kim’s uptight, butch personality. Cue the comedy! When this not-so-sexy couple meets French-Basque doctor Luix (played by Hollywood and French cinema regular Jean Reno), from whom they need adoption approval, things get painful; CÃ©sar is a terrible liar, makes a horrible first impression, and Kim can barely hide her disgust for him. In a telling moment, Doctor Luix tests the couple’s authenticity by asking each to write down the number of times they have sex per month. CÃ©sar: 12. Kim: 4. When asked to clarify this discrepancy, Kim hastily explains that these numbers indicate their respective number of orgasms.
Yes, You Don’t Choose Your Family has a tried and, perhaps, tired formula. Many of the jokes are cheap and unimaginative, like when Kim and CÃ©sar are forced, out of politeness, to eat a poop-like sea slug during a traditional Thai meal. Or when a painting elephant (exactly what it sounds like) smears CÃ©sar’s face with blue paint, much to his horror. But the film’s lush Thai backdrop is nice to look at and, more importantly, the actors work well together. CÃ©sar is agonizing to watch, but Christian Clavier has total control of his character, and Muriel Robin’s Kim works as a great comic foil. When Luix enters, it seems that he’ll be grim and humourless for the whole film, but when he suddenly and idiotically falls in love with Alex (Kim’s wife), everything we had assumed about him is cleverly subverted.
Such a formulaic comedy seems to belie its contemporary subject matter (gay rights and globalisation), but perhaps that’s the point. Never preachy or even serious, You Don’t Choose Your Family treats its story like any other comedy would, and has a good time with slapstick, comedic timing and all around silliness. It’s nice to see some of our day’s “˜issues’ treated with the same lowbrow, comic irreverence as anything else.
You Don’t Choose Your Family plays at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Saturday, March 31 at 6:15 pm as part of the 2012 CinÃ©franco Film Festival. Check their website for showtimes and tickets.