It’s unlikely that anyone was holding their breath for an English-language reimagining of Francis Veber’s 2006 French hit “La Doublure,” a lovable if trite farce in which a porter and a supermodel fake a romantic relationship in order to prevent a PR disaster. But with the help of some doting cultural specificity, a charming cast and sunshiny Los Angeles skies, “Come As You Are” director Richard Wong’s “The Valet” proves that a remake can still be a welcome thing these days, even in a world oversaturated with them.
Written by Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg (the duo behind the “Overboard” remake), this sweet-natured and good-humored rom-com-with-a-twist should easily find reasonable streaming success upon its May 20 launch on Hulu. This version of the story brings its distinctly “Notting Hill” beats to Tinseltown, where the modest and socially awkward Antonio (Mexican star Eugenio Derbez, more widely seen of late as the endearing music teacher in “CODA”) works as a valet, parking the fancy cars of a swanky Beverly Hills establishment’s rich clientele. Still desperately wooing his ex-wife Isabel (Marisol Nichols), yearning to be a good role model to his son Marco (Joshua Vasquez), and trying not to get too embarrassed by her playful and sexually very active mother that he adores (the legendary Carmen Salinas Lozano, in her final screen role before passing away in December), Antonio spends his days keeping his head down and succumbing to far less than his worth.
Elsewhere, gorgeous A-list actress Olivia Allan (vivaciously played by Samara Weaving, the plucky survivor of “Ready or Not”) is getting ready to premiere her next film — a feminist Amelia Earhart biopic — and keeping busy with her new female-focused production company. If only she could also lead a rational personal life, in synergy with those good-on-paper credentials. But involved in an affair with the shady, married businessman Vincent (Max Greenfield), the movie star soon finds herself in a deal where she has to pose as Antonio’s girlfriend for a while to ease the suspicions of Vincent’s skeptical wife Kathryn (Betsy Brandt). Both parties get something out of it: Antonio, the funds required for his ex-wife’s college dreams that he deeply cares about. And Olivia, a scandal-free name.
But the scheme naturally serves Vincent more than anyone, with Kathryn breathing down his neck so thoroughly that she even hires a private investigator to expose the sham union of Antonio and Olivia. In the original, the Kathryn character was played by the sensational Kristin Scott Thomas, who infused the project with her effortless sway and humorously stiff-upper-lipped nonchalance. In a lot of ways, it was Thomas’ charisma that kept “La Doublure” afloat. While Wong isn’t blessed with a similarly powerful presence here in the same role, he manages to center his film’s appeal otherwise, mining a winning emotional core from L.A.’s multi-layered Latinx culture.
There is so much affectionate detail in the way “The Valet” portrays Antonio’s family life, his close relationship to his mother and a supportive network of immigrant Americans they dwell within. The crown jewel of this unique ecosystem is undoubtedly the mom’s relationship to their Korean landlord, Mr. Kim (Ji Yong Lee). With neither of them speaking English, their septuagenarian romance gets played for predictable laughs at first. But “The Valet” quickly corrects course and has the audience genuinely care for the pair of old lovers, enabled by their offspring who generously translate their words to each other. Witnessing all the domestic affection she’s missed out on in her glamorous yet superficial Hollywood world, what’s Olivia to do if not fall in love with the family and become Antonio’s bestie?
Unfortunately, “The Valet” litters what could have been a leaner tale with too much subplot: There’s the potentially romantic banter of the for-hire detectives, an activist with a crush on Anthony, a team of devious figures working for Vincent, the mom’s ailing health and so on. In that regard, “The Valet” feels needlessly bloated at times, drowning the main storyline amid a crowded canvas of forgettable side-players. Still, the film makes good on its premise in the final act, resisting the temptation of forcing Anthony and Olivia into an unearned romance. Instead, Wong’s modest romp finds its satisfactory resolution elsewhere, through the personal growth of a group of fish-out-of-water characters you can’t help but adore in the aftermath.
“The Valet” will be released exclusively via Hulu on May 20.