In “Lolo,” Julie Delpy’s sixth and most brazenly commercial effort as a writer-director, the helmer plays an uptight Parisian sophisticate drawn into a long-term love affair with an earnest provincial rube (Dany Boon), while her teenage son, Lolo (Vincent Lacoste), does everything he can to spoil the relationship. His character serves the same function within the film as well, taking what could have been a broad yet sweetly believable comic meditation on cross-cultural middle-aged romance, and dragging it down with flatly staged, sometimes downright infantile low-brow antics. Well cast and funny just often enough to recommend, the film has every shot at snaring a decent audience in France, though international markets will be tough to crack.
Nearing the end of a long holiday in Biarritz, flustery fortysomething fashion exec Violette (Delpy) has yet to fully relax. Deciding that a one-night stand is just what she needs, she joins up with tart-tongued best friend, Ariane (Karin Viard, successfully constructing a Gallic Samantha Jones with just a few scenes), who vows to help her find a local man who might “clean her chimney” for her. (Delpy’s gleeful employment of middle-school sexual metaphors is both odd and strangely charming.)
She locates her chimney sweep in fellow divorcee Jean-Rene (Boon), an endearingly naive local computer programmer. To her surprise, she ends up falling for him, and the two plan to resume dating once he moves to Paris for a work opportunity. Flash-forward a few weeks to their reunion, and Jean-Rene is uneasily adjusting to big-city life: hopelessly navigating traffic, suckered into buying a chintzy high-rise apartment with a tilt-and-you-miss-it Eiffel Tower view, and always showing up in the wrong clothes for every occasion. Yet his biggest obstacle is Lolo, Violette’s intensely possessive 19-year-old son, who abruptly returns to live in his mom’s no-longer-empty nest after a breakup.
While his character will soon take the film into some Sandlerian directions, Lacoste is hardly to blame. Recently seen playing a Daft Punk member in Mia Hansen-Love’s “Eden,” the actor here looks more like a Justice wannabe: A cocksure and condescending aspiring artist, he affects a leather-jacketed Don Juan image in public while shamelessly soliciting his mom’s indulgence back home. His early interactions with Jean-Rene are well-played sallies of subtle psychological brinksmanship — urging him to overelaborate on dull topics over dinner, sarcastically nicknaming him J.R. — but once the interloper starts becoming a permanent fixture, Lolo declares all-out war.
At this point, “Lolo’s” loosey-goosey grip on reality gives way, as this overgrown problem child puts itching powder in Jean-Rene’s clothes, drugs his drink at a fancy party, recruits a pair of Slovakian hookers to climb into bed with him, and finally plots a nuclear option that pushes the film into full-on farce. And farce would be fine if the slapstick payoffs were as uproarious as their lengthy setups demand, yet Delpy gets far more laughs out of her throwaway one-liners than her laboriously orchestrated setpieces. The Duplass brothers tackled a nearly identical conflict in 2010’s “Cyrus,” and while that film had its flaws, it clearly saw that the scenario’s richest comic potential lay in moments of obtuse Oedipal oddity rather than high-concept hijinks. Delpy simply plays the wrong hand here.
Though the true cast standouts are Lacoste and Viard — both of whom appeared in Delpy’s best feature, 2011’s sadly undersung “Skylab” — “Lolo’s” leads have a number of scenes together that suggest what a winning film this could have been had it settled into a lower register. Playing a decidedly different type of hick than his starmaking role in “Welcome to the Sticks,” Boon manages to be lovably bumbling while still giving off enough charm to make Violette’s attraction to him believable. Delpy’s character, oddly enough, is less well defined, lurching from icy cosmopolitan to big-hearted nurturer to flailing neurotic from one scene to the next, but as always, the actress makes it work.