Film Review: Lolo

Alleged comedy from France about a mismatched couple trying to cope with the woman’s deeply disturbed 19-year-old son.
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At one time, a film like Lolo might have been viewed as whimsical, witty or, well…French, for those who couldn’t quite grasp its genre, or just didn’t like it but were afraid to say so for fear of appearing unsophisticated.

Today it’s just dated. It’s also ill-defined, creepy and not credible even within the parameters of comedy. The problem is that the story is not funny at all. It’s a depiction of a mother-son relationship that’s so troubled the son ends up as a cyber-terrorist. Yet in Julie Delpy’s new feature—her sixth time out as writer, director and co-star—it’s all presented as a lighthearted slice of life, with dark moments fleshing out a quirky but charming tapestry.

Violette (Delpy) is a flummoxed, frustrated 45-year-old fashion executive on vacation in Biarritz who is not having fun. Her traveling companion and friend Ariane (Karin Viard) says Violette needs to get laid or someone to “clean her chimney” (the yuk factor starts early) and sets her up with divorcé Jean-René (Dany Boon), a naive but well-meaning computer programmer who genuinely falls for her. She likes him as well, though he is a bit of a hick.

They have their fling and a few weeks later meet up again in Paris, where she lives and where he hopes to land a major software contract with a bank. It soon becomes clear that he does not belong in Violette’s cosmopolitan world, filled with fashion celebrities.  Karl Lagerfeld makes an appearance at a fund-raising party for the homeless, held in a subway station (elbow-nudging moment). Jean-René is overwhelmed and has no idea how to behave at such an event or how to dress. This is culture clash big-time.

But the couple’s major problem is Violette’s deceptively delightful 19-year-old son Lolo (Vincent Lacoste), living at home and emotionally dependent on Mom, possessive of her time and attention, and always at the ready to manipulate her overwrought protective (and by turns cruelly rejecting) instincts. It’s a very “modern” relationship. Mom knows few “boundaries” and shares far too much personal information with Lolo, an arrogant, pretentious and talent-free artist, who is beginning to resent Jean-René’s presence in her life.

Within short order, Lolo is engaging Jean-René in various forms of cruel gamesmanship in the hope that he will just go away. His efforts failing—realizing that Jean-René and his mother might really care for each other—he escalates the stakes, morphing into a full-blown nut case out for blood.

Among other cruelties, he drugs Jean-René and hires a couple of hookers to join the drugged man in bed (imagining Mom catching the trio and tossing her boyfriend out). When none of it leads to the desired result, and in an Oedipal frenzy Lolo sabotages Jean-René’s chance for his big computer job by destroying the software that would have landed him the gig, and in so doing (and in ways that are not fully clear) screws up the banking system throughout France. Chaos ensues. Well, you get the idea.

You can’t fault the acting. Lacoste (who previously appeared in Delpy’s Skylab) is wonderfully repellent; Boon, best known for his star turn in Welcome to the Sticks, is every bit the bumbling poor soul up against a shark; and Delpy fully evokes a self-indulgent, immature woman living her life with no thought to her own behavior or its impact on anybody else.But fine performances cannot compensate for the coarseness of this film’s sensibility or its puzzling narrative and strained tone.

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