Benoit Forgeard’s dorky “All About Yves,” bizarrely chosen as the closing film of 2019’s Directors’ Fortnight selection in Cannes, is literally about an intelligent refrigerator that ascends to Eurovision fame as a rapper. Imagine Spike Jonze’s “Her” played for the cheapest of laughs, shorn of atmosphere, and absent all melancholic insight into our relationship with new tech, but with the addition of a freezer compartment, and you’re halfway to understanding how little there is here. It’s all pretty harmless, and it does have a very winning central performance from the non-domestic-appliance lead, William Lebghil. So perhaps, far from the raised art-house expectations of the Croisette, it might find an undemanding niche in which its farcical Francophone shenanigans will fly. Still, smart fridge; dumb movie.
Lebghil plays Jerem, an aspiring rapper who lays down tough beats about having “no fucks to give” while living in his dead grandmother’s small, chintzy suburban house. He’s been selected, through some unseen and apparently none too trustworthy process, as a guinea pig for Digital Cool, a new company who have developed a fridge so smart that, as explained by comely sales rep and researcher So (Doria Tiller), they’re convinced it can change your life.
Firstly, it does so though the nannyish monitoring of Jérem’s nutritive needs, but pretty soon Yves (voiced by Antoine Gouy), a huge white monolith with a touchscreen that displays a HAL 9000-style dot to indicate awareness, takes on a greater role in his emotional development. Yves and Jérem become friends, with the advanced AI helping him win So’s affections and inevitably intervening in Jérem’s stalled musical career, before eclipsing him entirely.
It’s a premise that could have some offbeat merit, in the hands of a director such as Jonze or Quentin Dupieux (also in Directors’ Fortnight this year with “Deerskin”). One can only longingly imagine what subversive kitsch John Waters would have found in it, or how Roger Corman could have made a fun, culty B-movie horror out of its thin, “Twilight Zone” logline. But Forgeard’s script is far too timid to provoke anything but the mildest of titters, and the film unfolds instead in a breezy sitcom style, settling for tired visual gags (a fridge taking a parachute jump! a fridge springing a leak to indicate pants-wetting fear!) delivered in DP Thomas Favel’s cheerful, plasticky imagery.
There is some amusement to be gleaned from the raps (credited to musician MiM, lyricist Tortoz, and “Rap Advisor” Florent Sauze), and especially from subtitler Sionnan O’Neill’s neatly rhyming English translations. But really, to think about “Yves” at all is to overthink it, and it seems precision engineered to discourage any such activity. Much of the plotting is unmistakably lazy, and the characterizations even more so — especially of So, the woman in the unenviable position of being romantically pursued by both man and icebox. As to the wider world which Yves (and his apparently less evolved smart-fridge brethren) is designed to revolutionize, it’s sometimes portrayed as a place where people can totally accept a fridge as a brainy pop celebrity, and sometimes as one where the small-minded taboo against human-appliance relationships still stands — all depending on where the easiest, most available laughs lie.
As Jérem realizes he might prefer a pliant appliance and Yves decides that he too fancies So, the film really becomes a formulaic love-triangle comedy, except that one of the participants boasts a built-in crisper drawer. As a design challenge, too, it doesn’t help that the expressive potential of a large white icebox is necessarily limited, not to mention the fact that this galaxy-brained machine understands that it will soon so vastly outstrip its human owners in intelligence that forming relationships is futile, yet it still needs to be hoiked around on a box cart and is presumably stymied by a flight of stairs. But perhaps most discouraging about this whole soggy enterprise is the hoary familiarity of its simplistic moral about the dangers of technology and the lure of the easy but dishonest path to success.
In his third feature, Forgeard takes the slender, not terribly original observation that our smart-appliance-assisted lifestyles may have gone too far and makes a Miele out of it, up to and including a man-woman-fridge three-way sex scene complete with ice-cube ejaculation, about which all one can really say is that at least that’s now been done so we don’t have to do it again. To be strictly fair, it doesn’t try for anything more than high-concept silliness, and so on the very limited, low-ambition terms it sets for itself, the film passes the time amiably enough, especially thanks to Lebghil’s engagingly hangdog turn. It’s just a shame that despite presumably a wide range of chilling options and temperature controls, “All About Yves” should feel so uncool.