A deftly played contemporary comedy whose central protagonists are ordinary men compelled to bend the rules, “My Little Business” is breezy, involving and a lot of fun, in the rooting-for-the-underdog tradition. Co-scripter/helmer Pierre Jolivet follows his much-acclaimed but brooding “Fred” with the story of an honest craftsman forced to improvise when he learns, post-fire, that his business wasn’t actually insured. Inventive, sprightly effort marbled with gallows humor and pitch-perfect perfs is a convincing, consistently engaging ode to the gumption of the small businessman trying to keep his head above water under duress. Outlook seems promising at Gallic wickets, with fests a given and offshore arthouse play a possibility.
Within minutes of pic’s start, Ivan’s (Vincent Lindon) business — a third-generation custom-woodworking firm, with a handful of devoted employees — goes up in flames while the staff is at lunch. Like most small businesses in the vicinity, Ivan’s is insured by Maxime (Francois Berleand). But Maxime has been pocketing the premiums and, with a partner-in-crime at company headquarters , registers the policies — retroactively — only in the unlikely event of a claim.
The scam is rendered impossible by an accomplice’s sudden departure. So Ivan, Maxime and Sami (Roschdy Zem) — the high school gym teacher with whom Ivan’s wife, Nathalie (Zabou Breitman), and son now live — hatch a makeshift plan to break into the insurance company’s headquarters, hack into the computer, and install the policy that Ivan needs to keep from going bust.
Firmly anchored in reality, the fun stems from the fact that the three guys are forced to work together. If Ivan goes under, he won’t have the means to pay child support, which would cause problems for Sami; and if he doesn’t get the insurance coverage he’s been paying for all along, he’ll be forced to blow the whistle on his friend Maxime.
Subplot in which Maxime has to win over his straight-arrow secretary (Catherine Mouchet) is a hoot. Additional tension arises from the fact that, although their marriage fell apart because Ivan worked such long hours, Nathalie and Ivan are still sexually attracted to each other. And the sinister parade of no-nonsense tax authorities and damage assessors keeps things edgy and conspiratorial.
Pic is well plotted, keenly paced and nicely lensed, but the same dialogue in less skilled hands easily could have fallen flat. Thanks to the cast, this is a well-oiled piece of machinery that feels spontaneous every step of the way. And script has the merit of building to a multilayered climax with a twist.
Punchy instrumental interludes from French singer-songwriter Alain Bashung (whose hit from a few years back gives pic its title) blend perfectly into the suspenseful shenanigans.