The Closet

(Le Placard)

For a man who came up with La Cage Aux Folles (remade in America as The Birdcage) and The Dinner Game, The Closet is a disappointing movie for Francis Veber. The Closet is like an opposite Birdcage. Instead of a gay man pretending to be straight, there is a straight man pretending to be gay. Also, instead of being funny, it is not. Granted, there are some chuckles, but the majority of jokes here quickly become tedious, mostly because they border on the offensive. The straight man in question is Francois Pignon (Daniel Auteuil, The Widow of St. Pierre, The Girl on the Bridge). He is a normal, ordinary man; normal to the point of being boring. Pignon is a mid-level accountant in a condom factory on the verge of being fired. His wife (Alexandra Vandernoot, The Dinner Game, Sabotage!) left him because she feels he is boring. She does not return his calls, and his son wants nothing to do with him.

His elderly neighbor Belone (Michel Aumont, Lulu Kreutz's Picnic) comes up with an ingenious idea; he will circulate a picture of Pignon that implies he is gay. Then, Pignon's company cannot fire him lest they risk a lawsuit from Pignon. Everybody in the company ends up with copies of the pictures, and Pignon's job is safe. Unexpectedly, nobody knows how to act towards him, least of all Felix Santini (Gerard Depardieu, 102 Dalmations, Vatel), a macho, bigoted human resources employee who also happens to coach the company rugby team. Most of the supposed humor revolves around Santini's attempts to play nice with Pignon. Santini offends everybody, and some of the other employees decide to play a trick on him. They tell him that he is next to go unless he treats Pignon like a friend.

Santini has no idea what to do. Everything he says ends with 'faggot' or 'sissy.' It's funny the first couple times then becomes quickly tiresome. The Closet does not come anywhere near the level of detailed comedy in The Dinner Game. Everything here is broad and calculated to derive cheap laughs. The main issue is that the entire set up is not that funny. There are only so many jokes one can make, and Veber makes them all multiple times. The situation with Pignon's wife and son feels arbitrary and forced. Ms. Bertrand (Michele Laroque, Marry Me, My Life in Pink) is the only interesting character in the movie. Laroque plays Pignon's boss, the only person who can see through his ploy. Nevertheless, the script messes with her character in a bizarre way about halfway through the film.

Auteuil and Depardieu are probably the two biggest stars in France right now. If anything, their acting helps make The Closet seem better than it actually is. Depardieu's job is to look confused and frustrated. He never knows what to say, and is increasingly nervous around Pignon. It helps that Veber does not really call on either actor to test their abilities. Auteuil has to look boring. The Closet is not a serious exploration of homosexuality or discrimination, and it never purports to be in the first place. Thankfully, Veber shies away from employing some of the more shameful (and oft used) gay stereotypes. In fact, Belone tells Pignon to continue to act as he has in the past, to make things look more normal. The Closet is not a bad movie, it just feels like a plethora of missed opportunities. There is so much Veber could do, and he doesn't.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 26 minutes, French with English subtitles, Rated R for a scene of sexuality.

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