Thursday, December 12, 2013

WHAT'S IN A NAME? (LE PRENOM) Review - Javi's Take

Directed by: Alexandre De La Patellière, and Matthieu Delaporte
Written by: Alexandre De La Patellière, and Matthieu Delaporte
Starring: Patrick Bruel, Valérie Benguigui, Charles Berling, Guillaume De Tonquédec, and Judith El Zein
Synopsis: What starts out as a simple joke about a baby's name during a dinner party becomes an intense and revelatory evening for a group of friends.

There's something so alluring about a bottle episode of a TV show where the protagonists only stay in one location. These episodes have a tendency of adding much character development. Movies that mimic this format have their work cut out for them. While a capsule episode of a show like say, FRIENDS, is relatively easier to do since you have history with these characters. A movie that mimics this has to establish the personality of the protagonists in a quick and efficient manner as well as displaying the chemistry of the cast in a way that doesn't drag the story. WHAT'S IN A NAME?, while relaying a little too much on voiceover, is a tightly scripted comedic drama with a cast that clearly has chemistry.

At the heart of the story is Vincent, a self-described good looking salesman, who's something of a big presence in the room, an attention-hog if you will. His sister Éliabeth/"Babu," is a teacher and mother of two children along with her husband Pierre, a rather opinionated language professor are the ones hosting the dinner get-together. Rounding out the cast is Babu's best friend Claude, a trumpet player who can be best described as being like Switzerland. And finally, we have Vincent's wife, Anna, who is pregnant with their first child and over an hour late.

The movie starts off harmlessly enough with Vincent making a joke about what he wants to name his newborn son. The problem is that this is a rather maligned name. It might be pretty obvious, but I won't spoil it. What's fascinating is not really the initial argument, but the conversation that follows. The topics that they touch on during the ensuing sparring of words include personal satisfaction over societal responsibility, the politics of dressing oneself in the morning, to meaning of names and symbols. There are some very clever quotes that will stick with you and make you think.

The main cast of characters all have some very natural chemistry together. Considering that these are supposed to be childhood friends and siblings, you see a lot of history in the way they relate to each. It's even more evident whenever Anna, who Vincent has been seeing for a few years, and the way that she fits in the group dynamic. It's interesting to note that the tone of the movie is strange in the way that it shifts about halfway through the movie. It's actually very subtle, and it's not something that you really can notice upon first viewing. As the night goes on, with the scandalous name that begins the conversation being a topic long gone, the conversation turns to much more introspective topics and eventually devolves into personal attacks between the five friends.

WHAT'S IN A NAME? is a prime example of what a dynamic script and a solid cast can do for a movie. Despite the 109 minute running time, the movie never feels like its going through the motions just to get to another plot point. Even with having no big set pieces or even actors that are known to American audiences, this was a very enjoyable movie that's worth your time.

WHAT'S IN A NAME? comes out on Friday, December 13th in Manhattan's Cinema Village and is available on iTunes here.

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