A refreshingly offbeat comedy, "Matroni and Me" is an entertaining and funny yarn about what happens when an egghead meets a small-time Mafia boss. First-time feature helmer Jean-Philippe Duval has done an admirable job of adapting thesp Alexis Martin's play to the bigscreen and making it feel completely cinematic. But the humor is more wordy and thoughtful than the usual broad comedy that does well in Quebec. Pic looks likely to garner only middling results in French Canada, where it strong-armed only $ 64,000 from patrons during its first four days on 40 screens beginning Oct. 8, while international auds won't quite get this unabashedly local comedy.

A refreshingly offbeat comedy, “Matroni and Me” is an entertaining and funny yarn about what happens when an egghead meets a small-time Mafia boss. First-time feature helmer Jean-Philippe Duval has done an admirable job of adapting thesp Alexis Martin’s play to the bigscreen and making it feel completely cinematic. But the humor is more wordy and thoughtful than the usual broad comedy that does well in Quebec. Pic looks likely to garner only middling results in French Canada, where it strong-armed only $ 64,000 from patrons during its first four days on 40 screens beginning Oct. 8, while international auds won’t quite get this unabashedly local comedy.

Premise bears more than a passing resemblance to the recent Hugh Grant-meets-the-mob comedy “Mickey Blues Eyes.” In Ogunquit, Maine, a popular spot for vacationers from Quebec, Gilles (Martin) is strolling down the beach rereading his Ph.D. thesis on the death of God when he literally stumbles upon Guylaine (Guylaine Tremblay) sunbathing. Though he’s a nerdy intellectual and she’s a tough-talkin’, blue-collar gal, they hit it off, and, when he returns to Montreal, he makes a beeline for the local tavern where she dispenses brew. That’s where he is introduced to her brother Bob (Gary Boudreault), a wild, unhinged fellow who works for local crime boss Matroni (Pierre Lebeau).

Gilles and Guylaine are busy hatching idealistic plans for their future — plans that include Guylaine taking a shot at post-secondary education — but their romantic dreams soon come crashing to Earth when Bob turns up beaten and bloodied on her doorstep. In serious trouble, he forces Gilles to try to mend his convoluted problems by delivering a written message to Matroni. Along the way, Gilles gets it into his too-principled head that he can’t hand over the note, which contains the names of the “bad guys”— and sets in motion a strange night as Matroni uses every form of intimidation in the “Goodfellas” arsenal to scare the info out of Gilles.

Much ofthe humor comes from the rich wordplay of Martin and Duval’s screenplay, which frequently makes comic hay of the contrast between Gilles’ upscale vocabulary and Matroni’s rough, profanity-packed language of the street. A scene in a junkyard, where the two discuss the ethics of Matroni’s criminal trade, is particularly funny.

The only remnant of the piece’s legit roots is the verbose dialogue, but it is usually quite witty. Duval has spiced up the tale with different locations, a droll car chase and lots of nifty camerawork. Duval and lenser Andre Turpin find creative ways to keep things interesting, giving the piece a 1960s feel via the frequent use of split-screen, freeze-frames and odd close-ups. Retro atmosphere is further emphasized by occasional use of surf-style guitar instrumentals.

The reliable Martin elicits empathy as the nervous, over-educated Gilles, and Lebeau ups the comic flavor in a big way by sending up every Mafia-pic cliche in the book. Tremblay is lively and likable as the down-to-earth Guylaine, while Pierre Curzi provides a nice surprise in the late going with a tender, funny turn as Gilles’ lawyer dad.

Pic reps a notable directing bow for Duval, who is the latest addition to the strong bullpen of new-generation filmmakers working at Max Films (following the arthouse success of Denis Villeneuve’s “August 32nd on Earth” and Manon Briand’s “2 Seconds”).

Matroni and Me

(COMEDY -- CANADIAN)

Production

An Alliance Atlantis Releasing release (in Canada) of a Max Films production. (International sales: Alliance Atlantis Pictures Intl., Los Angeles.) Produced by Roger Frappier, Luc Vandal. Directed by Jean-Philippe Duval. Screenplay, Duval, Alexis Martin, based on the play by Martin.

Crew

Camera (color), Andre Turpin; editor, Alain Baril; music, Benoit Charest, Maxime Morin; artistic director, Andre Line Beauparlant; costume designer, Denis Sperdouklis; sound, Gilles Corbeil; casting, Emmanuelle Beaugrand-Champagne. Reviewed at the Quartier Latin Cinema, Montreal, Oct. 8, 1999. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Gilles ..... Alexis Martin Guylaine ..... Guylaine Tremblay Bob ..... Gary Boudreault Matroni ..... Pierre Lebeau Linda ..... Maude Guerin M. Larochelle ..... Pierre Curzi
With: Daniel Briere, Denis Houle, Pierre Harel, Marie-France Lambert, Dean Hagopian, Alex Ivanovici.
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