An experienced but slightly wishy-washy French magazine editor transforms herself into a red-lipped, predatory cougar in order to get ahead in “It Boy,” a pacey romantic comedy that makes the most of the chemistry and star quality of ace leads Virginie Efira and Pierre Niney. After co-helming horror items “Them” and Jessica Alba starrer “The Eye,” Gallic director David Moreau not only goes solo here but also impressively switches gears with a brightly packaged, fluffy and often funny entertainment. Local March release is closing in on 1.4 million admissions and could serve as remake fodder and theatrical catnip for distribs offshore.
Alice Lantins (Efira), the 38-year-old fashion editor at the (fictional) Rebelle magazine, is a perfectionist, as seen in an opening sequence in which she tries to reason with a Brazilian printer about the exact colors she wants on the page. She’s extremely demanding, but she would also rather be safe than sorry. That’s why her boss, fey publisher Vincent (Gilles Cohen), isn’t convinced she’s editor-in-chief material, unlike her more fun and playful colleague, Lise (Amelie Glenn), a Quebecoise with a stripper past who, even by movie standards, seems a bit too untamed to survive for long in a deadline culture.
Things start to look up when Alice manages to locate 19-year-old student Balthazar (Niney), who sat next to her on the plane back from Brazil and who found her lost USB drive with plans for the mag. There’s only one problem: Ever since Alice squeezed him to mush during a bout of heavy turbulence, Balthazar has been convinced there’s more going on between the two of them. Add to that a photo that makes it seem as though they’re getting extremely cozy, and suddenly Alice, the consummate pro, has the reputation of a man-eater — or rather a boy-eater, since there’s an almost 20-year age difference between them (as suggested by the French title).
But Alice’s newfound cougar reputation serves her well, as Vincent suddenly sees a rebellious streak in her that was previously absent. With her eye on that promotion, Alice decides to don a black leather jacket and play along, much to the initial amusement of Balthazar, who can’t believe his luck.
It’s a classic comedy setup, and the script by Moreau and Amro Hamzawi generally hits the right notes, even if they’re sometimes predictable ones. Highlights include Alice and Balthazar’s first coupling and a dinner party at the home of Alice’s antsy sibling (Camille Japy), who’s invited a gynecologist (Scali Delpeyrat) who she thinks would be a suitable companion for her sister instead. Efira (“Second Chance,” “My Worst Nightmare”) has a particular talent for transmitting thoughts and eliciting laughs using facial expressions alone, a gift that gets another glorious workout here.
Less convincing are the film’s attempts to say something broader about relationships between men and women of different ages, as both Balthazar’s old man (Charles Berling) and Alice’s ex-b.f. (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) have much younger girlfriends, too. The script seems unsure of its footing here, retreating into easy laughs that only serve to dilute any point about double standards based on age and gender.
Niney (“Romantics Anonymous”) doesn’t look two decades younger than Efira, but the couple’s chemistry and acting chops largely paper over this inconvenience. Supporting thesps are all solid, including Diana Stewart as a Miranda Priestley-esque superboss-from-hell. Widescreen camerawork, heavy on the expressive closeups, is as crisp as Cyril Besnard’s editing, which is crucial to maintaining momentum and landing laughs. Guillaume Roussel’s orchestral score is in light-comedy mode throughout.