Part Woody Allen, part Buster Keaton and 100% certified French, actor-helmer Emmanuel Mouret expands his impressive oeuvre of minimalist, burlesque laffers with the slapstick-heavy romantic comedy “Please, Please Me!” More reliant on visual gags than 2007’s “Shall We Kiss?,” but tackling similar themes of love and fidelity among a bunch of sex-crazed Parisians, pic aims for the creme de la creme with this clever romp about a goofball inventor trying to make it with the president’s daughter. Getting someone into bed has rarely appeared so difficult in a Gallic comedy, but pic should nonetheless score locally and in arthouses abroad.
As in his previous films — “Please” is his sixth feature in nine years — Mouret himself stars as a bright-eyed knucklehead who, despite an almost catastrophic sense of politeness, can’t prevent himself from chasing after lots of extremely attractive women. This time, he plays Jean-Jacques, an inventor whose latest gadget is an erasable magic marker that’s used in several amusing bits throughout the movie.
When Jean-Jacques’ nurse g.f., Ariane (favorite uber-blond Frederique Bel), keeps putting off their usual Sunday morning snuggle, he launches into a yarn about a pick-up scheme that consists of handing a note to an anonymous conquest. Jean-Jacques then goes on to explain that — pourquoi pas? — he tried the trick himself with the mysterious Elisabeth (Judith Godreche), whom he met earlier in a cafe.
Initially upset, Ariane soon tells him, “If we want to be a modern couple, you should go sleep with this woman.”
Things get quickly and hysterically out of hand when Elisabeth turns out to be the daughter of the president of France (vet director Jacques Weber). The film then launches into an extended bout of gags during which Jean-Jacques does his best to play it cool and hopefully go all the way.
Blending his character’s squeamish timidity with David Faivre’s colorful set designs, Mouret uses the simplest setups to elicit maximum laughs. One number, involving a piece of curtain caught in Jean-Jacques’ fly, extends for nearly two reels, but never wears out its welcome thanks to the actor’s inventive, low-key delivery inspired by the work of Keaton, Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.
Jokes are captured in rich, flattened-out medium shots by regular d.p. Laurent Desmet, and accompanied by a catchy score that mixes classical tunes with cheesy ’60s background music. Other elements — costumes, props, sound effects — are expertly utilized, making for Mouret’s most aesthetically mastered film to date, even if the script is more lightweight than usual.
All cast members showcase the helmer’s unique, offbeat theatricality. Deborah Francois (“L’enfant”) is particularly irresistible as a chambermaid who hardly utters a word.