Adapted from Guillaume Gallienne’s well-received one-man show, “Me, Myself and Mum” offers a playful twist on the typical coming-out narrative, in which an effeminate young man is the last to realize what everyone around him has already decided. Gallienne, who belongs to the country’s prestigious Comedie-Francaise acting troupe, milks his awkward upbringing for big laughs, playing the roles of both his younger self and his elegant if somewhat imperious mother (in drag, of course). Destined for favorite status in its native France, where this delightfully self-deprecating crowdpleaser opens Nov. 20 (having won dual prizes in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes), the film should tickle gay and Gallic cinemagoers abroad as well.
For those who don’t already know Gallienne and his story (he has appeared in “Marie Antoinette” and several popular French hits), the thesp comes across like the curly-haired version of American funnyman Tony Hale, best known as Buster Bluth on “Arrested Development.” It’s an apt resemblance, considering that Gallienne’s real-life upbringing wasn’t actually so different from the outrageous mama’s-boy scenario depicted on that show (apart from losing his hand in a seal attack, obviously).
As far back as Gallienne can remember, his mother treated him like the daughter she never had. The film’s original French title, “Les Garcons et Guillaume, a table” translates to “Boys and Guillaume, (Come) to the Table!” — a call-to-supper refrain that reveals how his mother thought of him differently from her two older sons. All his life, Gallienne adored his mum, and that affection, along with much of the sexual-identity confusion it caused, comes across loud and clear in the worshipful way he portrays her.
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As befits a future actor, Gallienne studied his mother’s every mannerism, from her scaly dragon laugh down to the upright way she held her cigarettes, and though audiences have nothing to compare his mimicked performance against, the picture of a proud and cultivated woman emerges — the sort of role that might have gone to Catherine Deneuve, had the decision to play her himself not been so integral to the piece.
Gallienne’s body language is no less exact when representing his younger self: He comes across as the sort of slack-shouldered and slightly swishy kids that shame their fathers and invite bullying. The choice to play all these scenes himself may be unconventional, but it fosters a degree of continuity and identification that other films sacrifice by casting different actors to play the various ages in a single character’s childhood.
By opening the film with a self-conscious reference to his stage show, in which Gallienne makes his entrance and begins his monologue, the versatile performer is then free to jump between characters and vignettes from various points in his upbringing. We see him fully grown and fumbling on the sports field surrounded by younger boys, pining after a studly classmate (Charlie Anson) at British boarding school, and learning the wrong half of the flamenco on holiday in Spain, while corny musical cues invite us to grin all the wider at his pain.
Juggling laughter, pity and poignancy throughout, Gallienne bares his most embarrassing memories for our amusement, and though it’s easy to relate to the shame he may have felt in the moment, there’s strength in the way he retroactively takes ownership of the entire experience. It’s all cleverly constructed to misdirect expectations, allowing Gallienne to blindside us with the surprising way the story turned out, while paying tribute to the idea of mothers everywhere.