A zits-and-all portrait of the weird, wild and incredibly awkward time of adolescence, Gallic laffer “The French Kissers” plants plenty of heart-wrenching gags right in the smacker. Comicbook artist-cum-debuting helmer Riad Sattouf’s rollicking tale of a pair of losers who suffer the small triumphs and endless humiliations of teenage sexual longing delivers a slew of grossouts a la “Superbad” and “American Pie,” though the prop of choice here is an overused sock. Pic should titillate French teens but, like its protags, will not easily penetrate markets already saturated with films about pubescent bodily fluids.
Pimply wiseass Herve (Vincent Lacoste) and his metalhead sidekick, Camel (Anthony Sonigo) are about as close to a live-action Beavis and Butt-head as could be imagined. Forever fantasizing — and masturbating, both alone and together — over their female classmates (as well as said classmates’ mothers), they’re unable to go as far as actually talking to a girl, except when it’s to mumble a few incoherent insults.
When Herve finally catches the eye of the sweet but equally sex-crazed Aurore (Alice Tremolieres), he’s pushed to choose between his first probable girlfriend and his unquenchable libido, while dealing with Camel’s fears that Herve will score before he does.
Although the gotta-get-laid teen movie has been routinely and even expertly exploited in the past, Sattouf and co-scribe Marc Syrigas (“Replay”) offer an even cruder form of comedy here, providing loads of visual gags — at a rate of one or two per scene — that focus on their characters’ every last greasy pore.
While several sequences show the two sloppily kissing everything from girls to mirrors to each other’s fingers in nauseatingly extreme closeup, others are freshly and creatively slapstick, revealing Sattouf’s sharp eye for storyboarding pranks — something he already proved in his series of French comicbooks (“No Sex in New York,” “Return to Junior High”) that tackled similar subjects.
Herve’s foibles are particularly complicated by the presence of his nosy mother (played by helmer Noemie Lvovsky). There’s something bizarrely incestuous about their relationship (just as there’s also something flagrantly homoerotic about his friendship with Camel), and the filmmakers use such content to show puberty as an incredibly painful moment when one experiments with different identities, in the hopes of finding one that fits.
Such embarrassments are extremely well handled by the cast of unknowns, especially Lacoste, who presents Herve as a constantly evolving and devolving character who can’t escape his own numerous shortcomings.
Whereas Hollywood-brand teen pics usually share a similar slick style and top-40 soundtrack, the cinematography by Dominique Colin (“L’auberge espagnole”) is purposely raw, and the score by Sattouf and group the Flairs is filled with low-fi electro-rock chords. Sound, however, is much too sloppy, and some of the dialogue comes out muffled, making it hard to tell if the levels are off or if the kids are just chewing on their own words.