A film review by Craig J. Koban
SLAP HER SHE'S FRENCH
SLAP HER SHE'S FRENCH
aka SHE GETS WHAT SHE WANTS
2005 (original release 2001), PG-13,
2005 (original release 2001), PG-13, 89 mins.
Geneveire: Piper Perabo / Starla: Jane McGregor / Ed: Trent Ford / Monsieur Duke: Michael McKean
Directed by Melanie Mayron / Written By Robert Lee Gordon and Lamar Damon
I think that, by their very nature, farces and satires are some of the trickiest cinematic beasts to tame. The best ones have a healthy combination of wit, intelligence, whimsicality, and well-pointed and lampooning jabs at figureheads or institutions, not to mention a strong tongue-in-cheek mentality.
problem with SLAP HER SHE’S FRENCH (re-titled for its 2005 DVD release
to the equally innocuous SHE GETS WHAT SHE WANTS) is that it maliciously
trades up any would-be and smart satire that it could have achieved for
lame sight gags, force fed and ham-infested ethnic and cultural jokes, and
gratingly unfunny and unsympathetic characters.
This film tries too hard to be a gag-a-minute comedy and not an
introspective and quirky look at what happens when two diametrically
opposed cultures (in this film’s case, French and Texan) lock
horns. Somebody please slap
me, because this film is a real stinker, a derisive frolic into all things
overwrought and unpleasant.
There have been some very endearing and successful high school satires and farces. One recently that comes to mind is Alexander Payne’s nail biting ELECTION, a film about a dramatically overachieving senior running for student council and her teacher that will do just about anything to stop her from achieving a level of narcissistic success. That film worked fabulously because of its tack and subtlety with its pointed laughs, and dealt an equally harsh hand to most of its characters.
Then there was the Alicia Silverstone farce CLUELESS, a very funny satire (and spoof of a Jane Austin novel) about valley girl materialists desperately in hot pursuit of the world. That film worked largely because it had truly likeable characters, especially in Silverstone, which is kind of noteworthy. Her persona was that of a snobby aristocratic and spoiled rich girl, but she nevertheless inspired our empathy and sympathy.
That is just one of the series of problems with SLAP HER…SHE’S
FRENCH – it want us to invest our emotions and sympathize for characters
that are wholeheartedly not likeable. It takes one character, who is
such a textbook ditz and egomaniac, expects us to akin to her, and then
provides an adversary for her that is not altogether believable and then
wants us to root them on in an ultimate battle of feminine wills.
Sorry, but the lowbrow shenanigans in this film make it dreadfully
difficult to really inspire our energies in anyone.
film takes equal shots, I guess, at two rival cultures that seem like
respectfully easy targets – the French and Texans.
Starla (in a dreadfully overwrought performance by newcomer Jane
McGregor) is the quintessential hot, popular, and plucky leader of the
high school cheerleading team. More or less, she is the teen-bitch princess of
Splendora, Texas, or as she points out, the “home of the Bushes…George
and George.” She is one of
those idolized brats that is worshipped by her legions of zealot-like
minions that roam the halls of her school, not to mention that she dates
the hunky quarterback of the school’s football team.
Oh, and her personal hero is Katie Kouric and she dreams of being
the next host of Good Morning America. It’s a small tragedy in the
film that no one has the right mind to tell her that she is in no way
shape or form capable of caring even Kouric’s shoes.
I will give Starla credit, as she does have a plan of attack to get what
she wants, a 50 point plan to be precise.
First on her list of goals is to become elected Miss Beef at a
local beauty pageant, a ceremony that occupies the film’s only real
funny moments, where the contestants dance around the stage, wearing
bikinis that look like cow hides, and shoot off fake pistols.
However, this is not a “beauty pageant”, in her mind, but
rather a “celebration of all that is positive about modern American
women.” Oh, and her other
strategy for winning is to thank God as many times as possible. Hey, she lives in the Bible belt of America, after all.
playing the God card somewhat backfires for our young achiever, as her one
friend Ashley Lopez-Lopez (BTW – funny names are always a desperate cry
for a laugh) tricks her and instead uses God in her speech.
Starla must now come up with something new, and she does.
In order to win back the audience and judges, Starla uses her time
to tell them just how important the community is to her, so important that
she informs everyone that her family is going to share their home with a
foreign exchange student from France.
Of course, in an earlier scene she let her parents know just how
much she hated the idea, but being the irrepressible and conniving
attention-seeker that she is, Starla is willing to do anything to win
next day Starla and her family go to the airport to pick up the new French
arrival. The exchange student
– Genevieve LePlouff (the always charming and unrelentingly cute Piper
Perabo) a meek and mousy looking girl, who wears the semi-French-obligatorical
thick horn-rimmed glasses and speaks in an even thicker accent.
However, Genevieve is so incredible pleasant and nice and treats
meeting Starla like meeting God. However,
behind Genevieve’s meagre and modest exterior lies something fiercer.
Through a series of events that I will not disclose, Genevieve
manages to manipulate herself into Starla’s family’s “circle of
trust” as well as curbing the appreciation of all those at school that
once worshipped Starla.
things go from bad to worse for Starla, as the swift and cunning Genevieve
subsequently manages to completely cut off and alienate Starla from her
friends, family, school and (dear Lord in Heaven) community and takes over
the teen queen’s life as the local popular sexpot.
However, Starla will not sit down and take a beating because, as
she once points out, "Philosopher Fred Nietzsche said, 'That which
doesn't kill you will make the person wish they had, cause they're going
to get their ass kicked for messing with you...or something like
that!" Starla then
embarks, with a little help from her brother Randolph (Jessie James) and
the local boy-next-door heartthrob Ed (Trent Ford), on a plot of her own
to reveal what is hidden under Genevieve’s beret.
guess that on superficial levels director Melanie Mayron tries to make a
version of ALL ABOUT EVE with equal parts CLUELESS, ELECTION, and DROP
DEAD GORGEOUS, except worse.
The problems with this film are numerous.
Firstly, the gags and humor are non-existent.
The film has a force-fed mentality to presenting the laughs where a
more natural approach would have been better.
Funny names, accents, ethnocentric jokes, and pratfalls only will
carry a film so far. One
example of the film’s desperation for chuckles occurs when Starla
notices that her little brother is reading the collective works of Phillp
K. Dick, to which she replies, “I like Dick." Haw...haw.
there is the character of the high school French teacher, in a completely
wasted comic performance by Michael McKean, where he is ostensibly reduced
to a closeted sexaholic/pedophile who drools over the sight of his student’s ample
cleavage (note to the screenwriters: pedophilia and perpetuating
stereotypes of male teachers as child perverts is not inherently
funny). Then there is
Starla’s mother, who secretly is an alcoholic, so we are dealt up moment
after moment of her drinking from her secret water bottle that does not
have water in it. Hoo-hoo. Oh yes, we are also granted a parade of endless shots of
cattle grazing; just to reinforce that we are in the armpit and hickville
of America. If the film does
not offend Texans, then it sure should offend viewers with how anxious it
is for a giggle.
Then there is the disaster in which the film deals with the two main female leads and their interactions with one another. The disastrous backfire of this film is with the character of Starla, who is the poster girl of ruthless, empty-headed ambition, and is so obviously and malicious superficial and arrogant to her core…and we are supposed to cheer for her in her efforts to battle Genevieve and teach her a lesson back? That’s the largest failing of the film – its complete lack of acknowledgement as to who the true antagonist and protagonists are and where exactly our sympathies lie.
Genevieve is tailored, eventually, to be the villain, but she is so
much more lively, charismatic, and spirited as a character than Starla.
Starla, because she is so largely unsympathetic as a character,
deserves everything that Genevieve dishes out to her.
You know you are in trouble when the wallflower character that you
are meant to hate actually inspires you to cheer for her.
The other interactions are forced and stilted as any I’ve seen. There seems no motivation for Starla’s younger brother to
help her in her vain efforts to combat Genevieve, and the tacked-on love
interest for Starla in Ed makes no sense whatsoever.
Oh, Ed at one point revels to her that underneath all of her snobby
and annoying manners "a real good person under all those layers
SLAP HER SHE’S FRENCH is a huge misfire of a high school satire, a film that is so drastically misrouted with its characters and laughs that you literally want to slap some sense into all of the participants involved. There are a few modest laughs in the film, as director Mayron gets some mileage out of Starla’s outrageously flamboyant vanity and Genevieve’s secret hidden agendas. However, the film misplaces the appeal of the characters – the more Starla opens her mouth and won’t shut the hell up the more stock you place in the infinitely more sophisticated and smart Genevieve to engage in some unscrupulous maneuvering to provide what appears to me to be a highly valuable service.
Maybe the film could have been more interesting and scathing, as a satire, if Starla was actually a pleasant and approachable figure, which would make her own personal tragedies more palatable and further would have made her willingness to gain revenge on Genevieve more necessary. Yet, when a film makes you dislike the heroine so much and root for the efforts of the busybody antagonist, what’s really the point? What we are left with is a simple-handed, moronic and hackneyed satire that tries to be a smart farce of small town competition, but inevitably the film is completely clueless.