The essayist E.B. White wrote in his book: Essays of E. B. White: "Humor has a certain fragility, an evasiveness which one had best respect. Essentially it is a complete mystery." Along comes The Valet, a French romantic comedy that occupies that vast movie space between "not worth seeing" and "exemplary." In spite of White's claim, there is not much about the humor in this film that's evasive or mysterious. We've seen these kind of situations before. Man loves his childhood sweetheart and wants to marry her, but she still sees him, as she did in grade school, like a kid brother. Man is married to woman who controls the money and his business, but he's having an affair with a much younger woman, a potential trophy wife. Two men live together in an apartment, not because they want to be together but because they can't find interested and committed female companions. Unfortunately The Valet doesn't really do anything very original with these humorous situations, which, like much humor, are only funny from a safe distance. If we were actually the people in these experiences, we wouldn't be laughing.
The Valet gets off to a slow start but once it begins to move forward, it's at least cute enough to be somewhat enjoyable. CEO Pierre Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil) has a serious problem. His wife Christine (Kristen Scott Thomas) sees a tabloid photo of him with his supermodel mistress (Alice Taglioni), and since Christine owns 60 percent of the shares in his business, this is much more significant than simply the possible end of a marriage. The financial implications are staggering. An attempt is made to try to convince his wife, as well as the public, that the supermodel was actually with another man, Francois Pignon (Gad Elmaleh), a parking attendant who accidentally appears in the same photo. Proposals are made, money changes hands and phony perceptions are arranged. The end is predictable. However even though we've seen this kind of story before, The Valet is still funny and provides more than a few small laughs.
Directed by Francis Veber (The Closet, The Dinner Game), The Valet is well cast, and the acting performances are more than simply adequate. Auteuil's performance as the uptight, cheating CEO is nicely done. It's clear that the stress he's under is entirely of his own making. Patrick Mille succeeds as the annoying Pascal, who thinks cell phones are more interesting than books. Taglioni is believable as the supermodel mistress who turns into a mediator and matchmaker, and Thomas plays the part of the CEO's wealthy wife with malicious glee.
In addition to being predictable, The Valet has a few more problems. A physician, played by Michel Aumont, is in a worse physical condition than most of his patients. Although he's the most interesting character in the film and dominates the first five minutes of this movie, unfortunately he's barely seen again. Additional use and development of this character could have added needed originality to The Valet. The ending comes rather abruptly after 82 minutes and without much resolution. It's as if the film makers ran out of energy or money.
However, it is possible to leave the theatre after seeing The Valet with a smile on your face because this film, in spite of its weaknesses, is funny and charming. You will be laughing with The Valet, not at it.