Its eponymous protag may sprout wings, but Francois Ozon’s latest, “Ricky,” never really takes flight. Baffling tale of a baby who literally can’t wait to fly the parental nest starts off as a kitchen-sink drama before moving into an uneasy mix of comedy and the grotesque, with character development replaced by airborne action in the second half. Some might detect an elaborate parenthood metaphor, but most auds will simply shrug their shoulders. “Ricky” opens in Gaul Feb. 11 on the heels of its Berlinale preem, but is unlikely to make the trek across the Atlantic.
Though inspired, like Ozon’s previous pic, “Angel,” by an English literary work — in this case a Rose Tremain short story — “Ricky” has more in common with some of the helmer’s earliest efforts, including his feature debut, “Sitcom,” in which the arrival of a freaky newcomer (a rat) throws a family into disarray.
On a council estate in the Seine-et-Marne region, just east of Paris, single mom and factory worker Katie (Alexandra Lamy) has to be dragged out of bed by 7-year-old daughter Lisa (Melusine Mayance), who has effectively taken the role of the mother hen. Things change when Katie falls for a Spanish co-worker, Paco (Sergi Lopez), and they have a love child, Ricky (Arthur Peyret).
But suspicious marks on the baby’s back lead to false accusations, and Paco temporarily departs the household before the marks grow into wings. Screenplay toys with concepts of leaving, losing and letting go in a family context, but the ideas are upstaged by the freakshow aspects of pic’s second half. Ozon plays some of the practical problems the wings pose for the tot and his mother for laughs –what should he wear? how to keep an eye on him when he’s likely to fly off? — for laughs, but not without a disturbing undercurrent. Absent feathers, the wings give the baby an alien appearance rather than an angelic one.
But strangely enough, the parents never seem particularly fazed by their offspring’s extra appendages. Because Ozon doesn’t develop his characters once Ricky shows his true nature, the movie’s slightly overcooked working-class realism quickly morphs into a grotesque — and admittedly funny — story of a mutant baby. There’s almost no exploration of the psychological impact on Katie or the others, and a media frenzy that descends on the family likewise feels perfunctory. The film’s two halves feel almost mutually exclusive.
Lamy, better known in Gaul for her comedic roles, acquits herself admirably in a more dramatic turn (especially early on), and Lopez, so scary in “Pan’s Labyrinth,” is a warm yet temperamental presence here. But both thesps suffer from extremely underwritten parts. Little ones playing Lisa and Ricky are appropriately reactive and cute.
Jeanne Lapoirie’s lensing is functional, and the effects work is alright in context of pic’s modest aspirations. Score by Phillipe Rombi — one of the few men on the crew list — adds some fairy-tale gloss.