10 February 2014
ByAppeared in BioNews 741
Who said French cinema was all dark little bourgeois melodramas replete with existential chit-chat, intractable love triangles and full-frontal nudity?
Only half right. There's also France's annual big-budget-but-still-arty Oscar grab. And more importantly there's the country's grosser domestic product: fatuous, formulaic dramedies that play well in the anonymous multiplexes of La France Profonde. It's reassuring - when no-one's looking the French are just as lowbrow as everyone else.
Fonzy is precisely the kind of home-grown clunker that should have stayed at home; it was inexplicably given a week-long run at the chic-as-Chanel Institut Français in London.
Of the film's many faults (how long have you got?) its formulism should be the most excusable. It is after all a remake of the French-Canadian hit Starbuck, which also spawned recent US retread Delivery Man (review in BioNews 738). But Fonzy doesn't so much apply Starbuck's formula as drop it like a concrete slab on an entirely different cultural context. It came out last year in France. I cannot believe even the most undiscerning Friday-night French audience didn't spot the incongruities.
So, sorry if you've heard this plotline before. Diego Costa is a middle-aged slacker who was lured by some easy cash back in the late 80s and donated 693 times to a sperm bank using the nom de branlette 'Fonzy'. More than two decades later a lawyer brings him the news that his legerdemain ultimately produced 533 offspring. 142 of them have launched a class action lawsuit to force him to reveal his identity.
Ultra-prolific sperm donors and fertility clinic slip-ups on this scale are not unknown (see BioNews 652). So Fonzy pulls off quite a trick in preventing suspension of disbelief in a credible central conceit.
For starters there's the 693 donations in three years thing. It's never revealed whether Diego's children are conceived via IVF or turkey baster. It requires no specialist knowledge to work out that if it's the former, he wouldn't have to have, ahem, worked so hard to produce his progeny. And who in the world would jerk into plastic cups nearly every weekday for three years and then forget about it for the rest of their life?
If only the dodgy backstory was just to set up some really cracking wank gags. Or just one good wank gag. Or any jokes at all.
No, wait. There was one. It runs like this. Diego's best mate Quentin is also his lawyer and is preparing a defence that his client's identity should not be revealed as it would upset his already fragile mental health. When told of this tactic Diego says: 'But I haven't got any mental health problems!' Without meaning to, he says it really slow like a total idiot. And his mate replies: 'When we're in front of the judge, say it just like that!'
Hilarious, no? This little pearl gets its first outing 15 minutes in. Presumably for those who walk into the cinema, pass out but then wake up further on, it's repeated word-for-word half an hour later.
With one exception the actors fail to elevate the dud script. Worst of all is José Garcia, an established leading man in France, in the titular role. For the opening five minutes he goes full retard, playing Diego as an out-and-out moron, all thousand-yard stare, slack jaw and dullard's underbite. When that's dropped we get a vaguely inept chancer with shades of happy-go-lucky everyman.
By the end we've no sense of Diego at all. In one late, desperate lunge to force audience affection for this non-character, his father tells him: 'Wherever you go, Diego, people love you'. As if anyone still watching would be so utterly lobotomised by that point they'd just nod along like zombies and take drippy Diego to their hearts.
The exception among the actors is Lucien Jean-Baptiste as Quentin. He is believable as the lawyer who gave up the day job to look after his kids. His sense of timing meant I almost laughed the first time they did The Joke. But he's wasted in the only non-drug-dealing role that black French actors ever seem to get: the inoffensive, ever-loyal sidekick.
Most of the film is taken up by Diego insinuating himself incognito into the lives of his sperm donor children. This is mostly played for laughs, with the occasional failed stab at poignancy. When Diego tells Quentin that he wants to be a 'guardian angel' to his brood, his friend laughs this off as naïve, yet that's pretty much how the film plays out.
The Fonzy-child who gets most screen time is Xavier, an overcooked caricature of a stroppy teen, his goth get-up and poor diet signifying 'lost soul'. Conveniently, Xavier has a Diego-shaped hole at the centre of his life. So when Xavier guesses who Diego really is and blackmails his sperm-donor daddy into putting him up... can you guess the heart-warming outcome?
The question Fonzy occasionally hints at asking is how much responsibility should Diego shoulder for the children he had a juddering hand in conceiving. More generally, in what sense - other than genetic - is a sperm donor ever the 'father' of his offspring?
The answer the film gives is - spoiler alert! - group hugs, lots of them, and it'll all be OK in the end and also I really love you, man, you're great.
only to disabuse yourself of the myth of French intellectual superiority. Or just to abuse yourself, in an entirely different way to Fonzy.