The Closet leaves reviewer with lukewarm response

I have to lay it down for you, folks: I truly was not anxious to go see a movie for this week. After a summer filled with pointless, mind-numbing drivel churned out by Hollywood, all I had to look forward to was Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a movie that Images promised would be “one of the most talked-about movies of the year,” a clear indication that the film is some sort of pseudo-artsy-innovative piece of celluloid meant to dazzle people looking for “alternative” cinema. Thankfully, the film I went to review this week was not as insultingly bad as that.

Images switched their schedule and this week decided to show the French film The Closet (Le Placard) instead of Hedwig, starring none other than Gerard Depardieu. All good, I thought, had the last film I saw starring him not been Asterix and Obelix vs. Caesar. For those of you fortunate enough not to have seen it, it turned out to be the most expensive film in the history of French cinema and one of its most colossal failures. Seeing Depardieu dressed up as Obelix was only slightly more depressing than seeing Paul Sorvino in See Spot Run. And since I am a person to hold a cinematic grudge, I can tell you I was uneasy when I walked into the theater to watch The Closet. Thankfully, the result was not nearly as catastrophic as Asterix.

In short, The Closet is the story of accountant François Pignon (Daniel Auteil) who finds out in a rather uninspired scene that he is about to lose his job. Divorced with a son who refuses to see him because he considers him a “drag,” he has no prospects and feels utterly hopeless.

That is, until a neighbor who only recently moved in gives him the suggestion that he should pretend he is a homosexual in order to keep his job: it would be bad PR for his company, a condom manufacturer, to fire him because it could be misconstrued that the reason for his dismissal was because of his sexual orientation. With the aid of carefully manipulated photos, the plan succeeds, and what follows is a farcical plot that sometimes works, but often does not, where the greatest writing triumph seems to be the absence of vulgar or stereotypical “gay humor.”

However, the script does have other flaws. After the plan is in place, the plot evolves into a full-out farce, with close encounters, misinterpretations, and general gags that don’t end up being particularly funny. With the exception of one or two truly inspired moments, the comical moments do not take off. The weaknesses in writing were disappointing since Francis Veber, who wrote the hilarious La Cage Aux Folles (1978) and its American adaptation, The Birdcage (1996), also wrote Le Placard.

On the other hand, Veber is also responsible for My Father The Hero, a travesty of celluloid wherein a girl pretends her father, played by Depardieu, is her lover in order to impress some schmuck at a beach resort. He also wrote the screenplay for Father’s Day, another travesty, this one starring Robin Williams and Billy Crystal.

When the script works, though, it works, sometimes succumbs to predictability. Depardieu is responsible for some of the funniest moments of the film. He plays Felix, the personnel director at the firm where Pignon works, who also happens to be a steadfast homophobe. When they hear that Pignon is a homosexual, Felix’s co-workers decide to “leak” to Felix that his job might be on the line unless he lightens up and starts being friendlier to the petty accountant. Of course, the co-workers’ ploy goes a tad too far, et cetera. But despite the overall predictability of the situation, Depardieu’s performance still warrants note.

Auteil, the protagonist, also does a competent job as a generally shy, bland accountant. The success of the plan, according to his neighbor, hinges on the fact that he must act exactly as he always has and not suddenly fall into set patterns of stereotypical behavior. For the movie, the avoidance of stereotypical “gay” humor works much better than the alternative.

But unfortunately for the film, it too becomes “a drag” as the comic moments become too spread apart and never elicit more than a couple of laughs each. Normally, I’ve written much more than this on why a particularly bad movie has been so utterly unnerving or disappointing. However, The Closet only manages to elicit a lukewarm reaction at best, with jokes that have either been said before or that are far too predictable to be truly comical. And when you’re talking about a comedy, that’s the worst thing that can be said.

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