Film Review: The Stroller Strategy

Thin, derivative comedy about a lovesick guy using a neighbor’s baby left in his care to win back the girl who dumped him plays the adorable infant as trump card, but bets are off on this one.

In its favor, writer-director Clément Michel’s fluffy entry strains to please as a sweet comedy about a clueless single guy suddenly saddled with his hospitalized neighbor’s three-month-old baby. The Stroller Strategy will require quite a strategy of its own to attract U.S. audiences (language might deliver more action in French-speaking quarters north of the border), as its high concept aims too low and lacks the raunchiness, edge or warm gender bonding for much-needed uplift.

Having taken a page or three from the decades-old French comedy hit Trois hommes et un couffin (remade into Three Men and a Baby), there’s no couffin (cradle) here but a pousette (a stroller that is really a portable carrier). And not three men but just one likeable Parisian dude: Thomas (Raphaël Personnaz), a struggling twenty-something illustrator aiming to upgrade from skin magazine sketching.

New responsibilities arise for Thomas on both professional and most notably personal fronts. Returning from a party to his umpteenth walk-up apartment, he catches fainting neighbor Mélanie’s (Carmélia Jordana) baby Léo on the stairs. Mélanie is taken to the hospital and put into a medically induced coma to ensure recovery. Meanwhile, Léo’s father has gone AWOL in Amsterdam and it’s up to Thomas to care for the baby in this unfortunate interim.

On Thomas’ work front, things are looking up. Designer and new father Jean-Luc (François Berléand) offers Thomas, who shleps the baby to the interview, a better illustrator’s job, based less on Thomas’ talent than on the bonding between what Jean-Luc believes are two new daddys.

As for caring for a baby, Thomas knows zéro, as the French say, but he soon has another serious agenda. A year earlier, he was dumped by his then live-in girlfriend Marie (Charlotte Le Bon), a mommy wannabe who was unhappy that he was not ready to start building a family, Now, a year later, Thomas accidentally and very conveniently learns that Marie runs a toddler care facility that runs classes for new parents. Furthermore, Thomas has as his cheering section best pal Paul (Jérôme Commandeur), a near forty-something, slobby tennis instructor whose gimmick getting girls is to convey he’s a single father who loves kids. To bolster his faux image and effectiveness, he boasts a jaw-dropping arsenal of toys and accessories at the ready.

Thomas stumbles through the usual learning curve (dirty diapers, crying, feeding, etc.), and the film predictably milks the baby’s adorableness (another close-up of Loann Foissac or his twin Timéo, please). When Thomas brings Léo to Marie’s facility, he fakes shock at learning she’s the owner and fakes that he’s Léo’s daddy. A warming trend between the two sets in and anyone who has ever been to a movie might guess the outcome.

Along the bumpy way to such inevitability, we get scenes of cute bouncing babies, their smiles, gurgles galore, and some kiddie songs by way of Pee-wee Herman-like songster-to-the-kids Fabrice (filmmaker Michel). There are some reversals, a surprise or two, and run-ins with utter ridiculousness like Thomas awkwardly wielding his carrier around town while leaving the baby behind.

Its baby theme aside, Stroller itself also has newborn connections: Filmmaker Michel makes his feature directing debut here and the film is the first-born release from a recent distribution alliance between Rialto Premieres (an offshoot of Rialto Pictures, long known for its magnificent revivals of French and other film classics) and French giant Studiocanal. The new partnership should ride a rewarding learning curve with Stroller, as putting it into today’s theatrical marketplace seems more wishful thinking than savvy bet. Reaping lessons rather than grosses, Stroller might reveal those other platforms that can bear the weightlessness of such light fare.

Yes, elements of the film might get “ooohhhs” and “awwwws” from newlyweds, young parents who can get sitters, mom and pop wannabes and grannies, but other filmgoers won’t get their arms around this baby. Although not a film to be re-seen, Stroller might be bait for a remake, provided its concept is stripped down to its barest baby bottom essential.