Had it been made fifteen or twenty years ago, Lolo would be the sort of European comedy that gets a Martin Short-starring remake put into production before the end of its first opening weekend. In 2015, it now feels like its own reinterpretation of American domestic farces the ‘90s and ‘00s that tended to star Billy Crystal, then Ben Stiller. While this particular subgenre hasn’t become any fresher in the years since higher concepts and filthier content started to gain a foothold, a trio of funny lead performances make Lolo easier to swallow as a knowing throwback, rather than dismiss as a commercial rehash.
That Lolo never asks you to excuse its French is perhaps the most modern thing about it. The movie’s first exchange is a lewdly garrulous discussion between co-writer/director July Delpy’s Violette, a Parisian divorcee, and her best friend (Karin Viard, in a role that can best be translated as Chelsea Handler-ian) “I want a life of magic moments,” Violette pines, in between tallying up how much sex she’s had since her ex-husband walked out, and complaining about what the jets in her spa bath are doing to her plumbing.
Lolo starts with its heart on its sleeve and sex on the mind, and in the interest of keeping things light, it leans more heavily towards the latter the longer things go. It’s a bit of a shame, as the early flirtations between Violette and Jean-René (Dany Boon), a genial IT worker she meets on holiday, strike an endearing balance between romcom sweetness and gross-out ribaldry. As if to remind you that dirtier bedroom activities used to be called “the French way” for a reason, another early extended bit has Delpy and Viard miming oral sex as a display of their unfiltered comradery. An older woman is on hand to look appalled at their antics, as you might expect.
With Jean about to move to Paris, Violette decides to make a go of a real relationship with the country square. The only issue is that there’s another guy in the picture: Elói (Vincent Lacoste), Violette’s 20-year-old live-in son. Despite feigning acceptance of his mère’s new beau, it’s clear early on that little Lolo (Violette’s pet name for Elói) isn’t looking to share his mother. A single insert shot of Lolo pawing a boiled egg is enough to change your relationship diagnosis from “codependent” to “Oedipal.”
Though the basic setup bears similarities to 2010’s Cyrus, the rhythm and plotting of Lolo are wired like a large studio comedy. Elói conspires to humiliate Jean in a manner that starts impish, but becomes increasingly Machiavellian the longer the new couple manages to weather the storm. Lolo eventually goes almost completely off the deep end in showing just how psychotic a mama’s boy Elói might be, leading to a third act that’ll be too dark and outrageous for some tastes.
While not totally satisfying, where Delpy takes her story feels true to the characters, who are a gang of well-meaning, but obnoxious screwballs. The friction caused by Jean’s dopiness and Violette’s snobbery makes their relationship hard to take seriously, but everything in Lolo gets looser and goofier as things progress. Delpy has a little something to say about “cool” parenting as being the hip way of screwing up your kids, but Lolo is really more interested in over-the-top embarrassment comedy.
Luckily, the principles are all so well suited to their particular roles that the central love triangle has more mileage to it than it might otherwise. Boon does excellent work as both the film’s straight man and whipping boy, so much so that putting him in an arm cast for half the film enhances, rather than limits his performance. Delpy gets the lion’s share of smut talk that the screenplay has to offer, but her natural expressiveness empowers more than a few punchlines. It also makes her a nice compliment to Lacoste, who underplays Eloi’s hostility so skillfully that it sometimes barely even registers as passive aggressive.
Delpy’s camerawork delivers a few early sight gags as neat and hilarious as some Lolo’s dirtier bon mots, but like the script, feels dragged down by the later pushes into broader tomfoolery. “What do you think this is, some sort of bad American comedy?” Elói too knowingly asks Jean, in a movie that features a recurring doctor with poor bedside manner, drug-spiked champagne glasses, accidental eavesdropping on confessions, and not one, but two Important Work Meetings that go disastrously. The frequent misunderstandings and miscommunications play out with a familiarity that audiences will recognize as quickly as the Andy Williams track the the film opens with, but Delpy makes her three-piece farce worth seeking out, at least until Lolo (U.S.) arrives in 2017.
Strong casting and a bawdy sense of humour help to freshen up Lolo’s stale trappings.