In Slap Her She’s French, rookie film director Melanie Mayron offers a comedic finesse that walks a very thin line between teen-bop slapstick and quirky indie ingenuity. It’s unclear in the first hour of the film whether Mayron is building something unique or merely treading down a path more suited for Freddie Prinze Jr. fans. And while the rest of the film offers nothing groundbreaking, it at least lets audiences know where Mayron stands.
The ambiguity of vision in Slap Her She’s French exists because Mayron attempts to eschew the norms of a typical teen fare not by breaking the rules, but by rigidly adhering to them.
Plot-wise, there’s not a whole lot that’s different about the film. Jane McGregor plays Starla Grady, a Texas teen who happens to be good at everything. She’s well-intentioned, she’s informed, she’s pretty and – most importantly – she’s popular. The only problem that exists at all in Starla’s life is that she’s on her way to failing French class. Thus enters French foreign-exchange student Genevieve LePlouff, played by Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly).
Genevieve is sweet, bashful and completely in awe of Starla’s presence.
But the adoration doesn’t last. It turns out that the only reason the innocent little French girl cozies up to Starla is so she can use her and bring her down. Once Genevieve has grabbed the hearts of Starla’s parents and friends, she quickly begins to take over Starla’s role as queen of the local world.
The character of Genevieve also clearly illustrates the success of Mayron’s approach as a director. When she first appears on screen, Genevieve visually matches every American stereotype of the French appearance. She has the beret, the short, dark hair, thick rimmed glasses and a plaid skirt with socks pulled up high. And she’s meek as a lamb, just as every foreigner should be when entering America. Her demeanor is perfect. She’s simply amazed by our country.
But at this point in the film, it seems like a mistake, a thoughtless oversight by a director who doesn’t know any better. It’s almost laughable on its own.
But throughout the film, Mayron develops Genevieve beyond the caricature initially presented. The climax, though far from trend-setting, brings it all together and shows viewers that despite any earlier doubts, Mayron knew what she was doing all along.
And that’s the beauty of the film. By playing into the viewer’s expectations, Mayron effectively pulls one over on the audience. The end result isn’t Oscar material, but it is worthwhile. And it offers a subtle comedic touch that elevates an otherwise plain movie into a memorable film.
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