Slap Her, She's French
By the book teen comedy, a-haw-he-haw.
Some films demand to be watched purely on the basis of the title. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance for instance, or the impending The Rock / Seann William Scott vehicle's initial title Helldorado before it was changed to the rather more pedestrian The Rundown. Slap Her, She's French joins the ranks of impressive and audacious titles but I'm sad to report it's the best and most imaginative aspect of the film by a long chalk. A fairly bog-standard teen comedy that is saved from a one-way ticket to theOneliner Basket O' Clunkers by not pumping its stereotypes up to the extremes that so commonly afflict the genre.
Starla Grady is the most popular girl in Splendona high school, achieved by dint of looking pretty and, well, that's about it really. High schools the world over aren't much of a meritocracy. Being from a well off family no doubt helps in this as well. She's not content with merely being the most popular though, she has a plan. Starla dreams of becoming the anchorwoman on Good Morning, America and has a detailed plan of action to achieve this. One of the steps is winning the meat marketing sponsored beauty pageant, which she duly does after a brief panic when her friend steals her sure-fire interview tactic of mentioning God. This is always welcomed with vacant cheers in the bible belt, but Starla counters with a spiel on the importance of community and how she wants the world to know how great her home town of Splendona is an announces that her family will take in foreign exchange student. This is met with a strangely raucous reception, but it clinches her victory.
Enter the not-terribly-comically named Genevieve LePlouff, played by the comically named Piper Perabo. She's a clumsy, awkward French lass but we've seen enough in the way of teen comedies to know that she's this film's equivalent of the secretary everyone realises is beautiful once she removes those black rimmed glasses and shakes out her hair from under her beret. There's an at times unusual mix of straight-up clich? and send-up clich? in this film. Perabo's accent swings between reasonable and comedy French, although never descending to the depths of John Malkovich's in Johnny English. Starla is portrayed occasionally as stupid and ignorant, others as merely single-minded enough to not notice she hurts others' feelings. The set designs show a subtle parody of Texan excess, while Starla's alcoholic mother is a more blatant and less effective character that seems to have been stolen from Dallas.
The obvious route to take would be Starla's friends chastising her for her poor treatment and lack of respect for Genevieve, then having Genevieve grow more popular teaching Starla a valuable lesson, with the two reconciling at the end. It follows this to a certain extent, although the set up is a little more innovative than I had expected. This is largely because I was expecting nothing, however.
It starts off predictably. Sensitive school magazine type Ed Mitchell (Trent Ford) writes an article on Genevieve, provoking a fit of petulance from the normal cover girl. Coupled with an almost suspiciously tragic account of the death of everyone she's ever loved, she soon becomes the most talked about girl in school. This doesn't fit with Starla's plans, but for once in flicks like this she doesn't try to sabotage Genevieve's popularity - Genevieve is busy sabotaging Starla's.
As soon as you hear her accent you should know that something is afoot, and it fairly quickly transpires that our fine French friend is not what she appears. She records off-the-cuff insults dismissing her school, made in the relative privacy of her bedroom. This in later used to hammer nails into her coffin, although she can have few complaints. She did say it, after all. More reprehensible is Genevieve offering to tutor an unsuspecting Starla through a French oral exam, resulting in the not-terribly scene of the teenager unwittingly coming on to a flustered (and horny) teacher, the pompous Monsieur Duke (Michael McKean).
She loses her spot as head of the cheerleader team to Genevieve. She loses the presenting gig of the schools morning news report to Genevieve. She loses her oafish quarterback boyfriend to Genevieve. Her popularity and hence happiness, such is her superficiality, ruined by the Genevieve's Machiavellian machinations, she finds comfort in an entirely expected source , Ed. This friendship becomes useful once another of Genevieve's plans results in a drug addled Starla being slung in jail, which would have her miss the finals of a media competition, another important stepping stone on her track to success. Along with Ed and her little brother, Arnie (Brandon Smith, following some tradition or charter that states in a family where the parents and all other siblings are dumb the youngest will invariably be hyper-intelligent. And annoying.) she extracts some measure of revenge on her nemesis by revealing her true identity, originally hailing from Splendona but forced to leave after a mild humiliation perpetrated by a very young Starla.
The ultra happy ending is eschewed in favour of a marginally more realistic one, which is a refreshing change, although by the time the credits start rolling you'll realise that their final disclaimer that 'No French people were harmed in the production of this film' is probably the single funniest joke they've thrown or way. It's a little sad, as against all expectation I actually wanted to like this film. For a first time feature film director, Melanie Mayron keeps everything rolling along and the attention to detail of the set design is commendable in itself. The soundtrack is uninspired but decent, and the acting from the two leads is actually pretty good. It's a shame the rest of the cast are sleepwalking through their roles, as Jane McGregor comes across as incredibly likeable and even Perabo has a decent presence (and a solid excuse for the occasionally ropey accent). The only complete failing of note, and unfortunately it's the most important by far, is the script.
There's a strange sense of bipolar disorder on the part of the scriptwriters, occasionally having characters blindly following type and occasionally daring to be a little different. It can become quite frustrating, although only if over analysing what is at heart a light and fluffy throwaway film. There are a few comparatively subtle jokes that hit the spot, but most of the obvious ones fall a little flat. It's one of those comedies where you'll chuckle occasionally but never hit a belly laugh. As it's intended as a comedy, this means it fails.
I wouldn't in all honesty recommend this to anyone, and I may even be overstating its case. Having seen a deluge of Yank teen comedies with the subtlety of a twelve pound lump hammer to the face I've a soft spot for anything attempting to be even very slightly more intelligent, meaning this is spared the Vitriol Cannon treatment dished out to American Pie: The Wedding. Still, in the final reckoning it isn't terribly funny, so it can take what it's given and count itself lucky.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.
Jane McGregor (Starla Grady)
Trent Ford (Ed Mitchell)
Julie White (Bootsie Grady)
Brandon Smith (Arnie Grady)
Jesse James (Randolph Grady)
Nicki Lynn Aycox (Tanner Jennings)
Alexandra Adi (Ashley Lopez)
Matt Czuchry (Kyle Fuller)
Cristen Coppen (Doreen Gilmore)
Michael McKean (Monsieur Duke)