Published Sep 07, 2014Since directing the trilogy of films, On the Run, The Amazing Couple and After Life back in 2002, wherein the same characters were placed in different situations and in different genres, Lucas Belvaux has stuck primarily with gritty crime dramas. As such, his decision to return to the world of romantic comedy with Not My Type seems particularly peculiar and potentially linked to subversive intentions that don't initially show in this grating, overly formulaic exercise in cinematic redundancy.
Belvaux's last few films have dealt with the motivations for committing crime and the economic scenarios that foster such activity. Even One Night, though removed specifically from detailing organized crime, still tackled the less admirable side of humanity, uniting a neighbourhood full of people that collectively ignored the cries of a woman being raped and murdered — like a protracted and exaggerated variation on the ironing scene in Code Unknown — to evade responsibility. This is why the seeming banality of his latest work is so quizzical.
Clément (Loïc Corbery), a Parisian philosophy teacher, moves to Arras for a year, where he meets Jennifer (Émilie Dequenne), a hairstylist with a love of crappy American cinema. The machinations of this setup are as trite as they are familiar, with the reserved Clément pursuing the carefree Jennifer despite their obvious differences. Over dinner, he determines that her definition of beauty in relation to Kate Moss is actually reflective of Kant's philosophies, which is about as complex and witty as the dialogue gets.
Jennifer, when not being the perfect mother to a son that conveniently disappears for most of the runtime, is the very definition of carefree. When she's not standing around with a big fake smile, she's running through the streets whimsically or rehearsing for elaborately constructed karaoke performances at a local nightclub. Whenever she's with Clément, she yell-sings in his face for minutes at a time, which really is as obnoxious as it sounds. Conversely, Clément mopes around upscale parties and lectures his students on the nature of time as a constant reminder of mortality, embodying his stereotype with lacklustre aplomb.
The embedded conflict is obvious: Jennifer wants Clément to let loose and he wants her to learn how to read books that don't have an Oprah sticker on the front. Having to endure their repetitive, insipid conversations while this tension comes to a boil is what makes enduring Not My Type a gruelling exercise in self-punishment.
What does pique some interest is the handful of situations and moments that deviate from the romantic comedy form. By sheer merit of being a European movie, the casual nudity and protracted sex scenes aren't specifically shocking in themselves — although, given the persisting mention of American cinema, Belvaux was surely aware that this was a minor subversion — but the strangely lethargic nature of their first encounter suggests problems that the script doesn't necessarily reinforce.
There's also a conscious decision to defy the expectations of the genre by suggesting that while opposites attract, they don't tend to have much left to go on once they tire of fucking each other.
It's in these minor deviations that the real Belvaux comes out, suggesting that he had a bigger concept in mind that simply fell flat. As presented, Not My Type probably won't be anyone's type, being too clichéd and tiresome for the academic crowd and too cynical and inconsistent — too many secondary storylines pop up without purpose or resolution — for the Jennifer Aniston crowd. Still, it is amusing to hear someone sing Gloria Gaynor's "Survive" with a heavy French accent. (Agat Films)