A very sweet comedy about fandom, destiny and dreams deferred, “Jean-Philippe” is a bit like a Gallic cross between “Hustle & Flow” and “Back to the Future.” Premise sounds goofy but plays nicely, via an appealing blend of tongue-in-cheek references and narrative sincerity. “What if?” fable about a parallel universe in which reigning Gallic pop idol Johnny Hallyday (real name: Jean-Philippe Smet) was cheated out of his four-decade career may not travel far beyond Johnny strongholds, but does what it sets out to do with humor and more than a touch of poignance.
Oddly, the pic reps the second French venture in less than a month — following Benoit Poelvoorde-starrer “One Fine Day” — in which an ordinary office worker’s world is transformed without warning from one day to the next.
Office drone Fabrice (Fabrice Luchini) lives in a respectable but soulless Paris ‘burb with his wife (Guilaine Londez) and bored, punk teen daughter (Elodie Bollee). Fabrice’s reason to get out of bed in the morning is his shameless adoration of French rocker Johnny Hallyday, whose 900-plus songs he knows by heart. The attic is a memorabilia shrine to Johnny — whose first-name notoriety is on a par with Elvis in France, Belgium and Luxembourg, and has been for more than 40 years.
Stumbling home drunk one night, Fabrice inadvertently baits a hostile neighbor who decks him. Fabrice awakens in a seemingly identical world. But his Johnny shrine has been replaced with a beer can collection. When he tries to report the burglary, the cops have never heard of Johnny Hallyday. Neither has anybody else.
Panicked, Fabrice combs France for Jean-Philippe Smet and, in a series of sight gags, gets nowhere. When he least expects it, Fabrice encounters Smet (Hallyday) in the men’s room of the bowling alley Smet runs. Fabrice makes it his mission to promote “Johnny’s” nonexistent career — the one that was usurped by Chris Summer (Antoine Dulery) under suspicious circumstances when both men were aspiring and as-yet-undiscovered teen rockers.
Luchini — famed for his intellectual stage work and frequently over-the-top screen perfs — and Hallyday, a truly popular working legend who can sell out a stadium as surely as the Rolling Stones, sock across the idea with affection and skill. Time-travel angle never devolves into a mere “dream” or shaggy dog realm, although it sometimes seems headed that way.
Use of Hallyday standards and other source music is satisfying.