×

What’s in a Name?

An unborn's unlikely moniker is the simple but effective motor of "What's in a Name?" a French comedy adapted from a play by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelliere.

With:
With: Patrick Bruel, Valerie Benguigui, Charles Berling, Guillaume De Tonquedec, Judith El Zein, Francoise Fabian, Yaniss Lespert, Miren Pradier, Alexis Leprise, Juliette Levant.

An unborn’s unlikely moniker is the simple but effective motor of “What’s in a Name?” a French comedy adapted from a play by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelliere. Starring most of the original cast and directed by its playwrights, pic is the latest in a long line of Gallic stage-to-screen successes that essentially provide wider access to the material while never quite adding a cinematic edge. Despite a less potent second half, whammo local B.O. (it’s sold more tix at home than “The Avengers”) should spike offshore interest for theatrical and possibly remake rights.

Simply called “Le Prenom,” or “The Given Name,” in French, the film starts with a credits sequence that identifies crew members by their first names only (it’s produced by “Dimitri and Jerome”), followed by a quick montage sequence that introduces the protags by listing their respective idiosyncrasies.

The characters gather at the well-appointed Parisian apartment of petit-bourgeois intellectual Pierre (Charles Berling) and his overly anxious wife, Elisabeth (Valerie Benguigui). Elisabeth’s fey childhood friend, Claude (Guillaume De Tonquedec), with whom she used to attend dance classes, and Pierre’s laissez-faire brother, Vincent (Patrick Bruel), have arrived for dinner. They make small talk while waiting for Anna (Judith El Zein), Vincent’s pregnant and perpetually late wife.

Things tip over into craziness when Vincent reveals the first name he and Anna have chosen for their firstborn. The revelation sets in motion a cascade of rapid-fire reactions and counterarguments that are not only hilarious and snappily delivered, but also constitute a remarkably intelligent exploration of the value and importance (or lack thereof) of a particular name.

Things reach a fever pitch when Anna arrives, and Elisabeth, who was in the kitchen when the big reveal was made, also becomes part of the drama, with d.p. David Ungaro increasingly using handheld shots to convey the initially polite conversation’s eruption into chaos (the only cinematic trick here impossible to reproduce onstage).

But after everyone has found out and had time to react, there’s still 45 minutes on the clock, and it’s here that this smart, witty picture eases into the typical stuff of boulevard comedies: secret affairs, hidden agendas and uneasy truths. There are still plenty of chuckles to be had, but the pic never again vibrates with intelligence as well as belly laughs.

Delaporte and de la Patelliere, better known as screenwriters, especially of animated fare (“Renaissance,” “The Prodigies,” “Le petit prince”), had a huge hit on their hands with their first play, so it’s no surprise they’ve adapted it for the bigscreen themselves. And except for Berling, who replaces Jean-Michel Dupuis, the directors have brought onboard the entire original cast. This makes their job much easier, as countless performances have perfected the timing and tone of each single line. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all thesps — Berling very much included — are superb.

Marie Cheminal’s production design suggests volumes about the kind of people Pierre and Elisabeth are, while the numerous lamps and lampshades integrated into the set bathe the entire apartment in a benign, yellowish light. Music choices seem somewhat eclectic for such a middle-class, taste-sensitive gathering, but otherwise production values are sharp.

What's in a Name?

France

Production: A Pathe Distribution release of a Chapter 2, Pather, TF1 Films Prods., M6 Films, Fargo Films, Nexus Factory production, in association with Canal Plus, Cine Plus, TF1, M6. (International sales: Pathe Intl., Paris.) Produced by Dimitri Rassam, Jerome Seydoux. Co-producers, Romain le Grand, Florian Genetet-Morel, Matthieu Delaporte, Alexandre de la Patelliere, Serge de Poucques, Sylvain Goldberg, Adrian Politowski, Gilles Waterkeyn. Directed, written by Matthieu Delaporte, Alexandre de la Patelliere, based on the play by Delaporte, de la Patelliere.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), David Ungaro; editor, Celia Lafitedupont; music, Jerome Rebotier; production designer, Marie Cheminal; costume designer, Anne Schotte; sound (Dolby Digital), Miguel Rejas; associate producers, Bernard Murat, Andree Zana Murat; assistant director, Joseph Rapp. Reviewed at Utopia, Luxembourg, July 17, 2012. Running time: 116 MIN.

With: With: Patrick Bruel, Valerie Benguigui, Charles Berling, Guillaume De Tonquedec, Judith El Zein, Francoise Fabian, Yaniss Lespert, Miren Pradier, Alexis Leprise, Juliette Levant.

More Film

  • Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham2019 Writers

    Writers Guild Announces 2020 Awards Show Date

    The 72nd Annual Writers Guild Awards will take place in coinciding ceremonies in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton and the Edison Ballroom in New York on Feb. 1, the Writers Guild of America announced. The WGA will begin voting in November and will reveal this year’s TV nominees Dec. 5 and film Jan. 6. [...]

  • Tarantino Movies Ranked Illustration

    All of Quentin Tarantino's Movies Ranked

    In the history of cinema, has any director done more to elevate the idea of movies as cool than Quentin Tarantino? Certainly, the idea that films could be made by fans dates back at least to the French New Wave, when a group of die-hard critics stepped behind the camera. A few years later, Spielberg, [...]

  • A Stranger on the Beach

    Anonymous Content Wins Film Rights to Michele Campbell's 'A Stranger on the Beach' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Anonymous Content has won the adaptive rights to the forthcoming Michele Campbell novel “A Stranger on the Beach.” In a competitive situation, Anonymous outbid multiple players for the thriller, which it will adapt for the big screen with in-house producers Alex Goldstone and Rosalie Swedlin. “Stranger” has been likened to sensual thrillers like “Fatal Attraction” [...]

  • Ridley Scott Matt Damon Ben Affleck

    Ridley Scott, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener Team on 'The Last Duel'

    Ridley Scott looks to have his next directing job, as he has signed on to direct “The Last Duel” with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck attached to star. Damon and Affleck co-wrote the script with Oscar-nominated Nicole Holofcener. Scott, Damon and Affleck all producing along with Scott’s producing partner Kevin Walsh. Drew Vinton is also [...]

  • Jonathan Taylor Thomas Ed Asner Elliott

    Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Ed Asner, Elliott Gould Seek SAG-AFTRA Board Seats

    Ed Asner, Elliott Gould and Jonathan Taylor Thomas are seeking SAG-AFTRA national board seats as members of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Asner is the former president of the Screen Actors Guild, serving two terms from 1981 to 1985, and winning five Emmys for his role as Lou Grant and two others [...]

  • Natalie Portman Thor Comic Con

    Comic-Con: Marvel 'Shock and Awe' Strategy Dominates Twitter Buzz

    Disney’s Marvel Studios handily won the hype trophy from this year’s Comic-Con International San Diego. Marvel Studios — which returned to the 2019 Comic-Con stage with a chock-full Phase 4 slate of announcements — dominated the discussion on Twitter out of the convention, capturing the biggest volume of buzz for nine of the top 10 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content