With “Life After Love,” Montreal helmer Gabriel Pelletier has crafted a highly amusing light comedy that avoids lowest-common-denominator humor, the Achilles heel of so many Quebec hits. Pic is on the mark most of the time, thanks to newcomer Ken Scott’s witty script and an endearing lead perf from seasoned French-Canadian thesp Michel Cote. Still, even though pic avoids lowbrow gags, it remains an item that will likely have little appeal outside Quebec. Alliance Atlantis launched the pic July 7 on more than 70 screens across the province for a healthy first-weekend gross of C$436,000 ($297,000), putting it on target to finish as one of the top Quebec titles of the year.
Gilles Gervais (Cote), a rather ordinary middle-aged dentist, finds his life changed when his wife of 20 years, Sophie Lavergne (Sylvie Leonard), suddenly leaves him for another man. She has complained about a lack of passion, but the pic would have benefited from a fuller sense of her disappointment in the marriage. Completely depressed, Gilles mopes his way over to the office of a psychiatrist, Docteur Bilodeau (Yves Jacques), who soon has his patient ferociously pummeling a punching bag that is meant to represent all his problems.
In one of the film’s funnier scenes, Gilles takes out his frustrations on a patient at the dental clinic. When he goes too far with his bad behavior, he winds up in jail, where he bonds with cellmate Sunsey (Patrick Huard), a crazed, dope-smoking, man-hugging tough guy. Before you can say full-blown midlife crisis, Gilles and Sunsey have turned Gilles’ office into a drug-filled New Age party HQ. Along the way, Gilles also finds time to date another woman named Sophie (Guylaine Tremblay) who looks exactly like his wife.
Although pic feels like a series of loosely connected comic sketches, Scott’s script keeps the jokes coming with remarkable frequency. Helmer Pelletier also does a good job of mixing humor and pathos, though much of the credit for the balancing act has to go to lead actor Cote. One of Quebec’s most popular film and TV stars, Cote has not appeared in a feature comedy since 1989’s “Cruising Bar,” and new pic is a reminder of his knack for comic acting. He also makes Gilles a sympathetic Everyman, which is no small feat given that he could have come across as an irritating whiner in a lesser thesp’s hands.
The scene-stealer, though, is Huard as wacko stoner Sunsey. His moments are far and away the funniest in the film, as he turns Gilles on to the pleasures of pot smoking and male bonding. Jacques is also good as the eccentric psychiatrist who looks almost embarrassed by Gilles’ precarious psychological state. The other characters, unfortunately, are given almost no depth, which is particularly irksome in the case of ex-wife Sophie.
The soundtrack relies on light, bouncy jazz tunes interspersed with heavier Quebecois rock numbers.