By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
In one scene in “My Worst Nightmare,” a boorish handyman picks up a highbrow novel at his employer’s house, reads the one-paragraph synopsis and easily predicts the cornball outcome of the story.
Funny scene, but this movie is guilty of the same offense: We can see where its satirical story is going from the first few minutes. Getting there is reasonably fun, in the way a Nancy Meyers movie like “It’s Complicated” is fun, all spirited actors, simple jokes and nice apartments.
The boorish handyman is Patrick (Benoit Poelvoorde), a beer-swilling Belgian. He meets an upper-class couple because their sons are at school together.
These folks are Francois (Andre Dussollier), a publisher, and his hard-driving partner Agathe (Isabelle Huppert). When Patrick embarks on a remodeling job of their fancy Paris apartment, he upends their straight-laced existence and makes a life-affirming mess out of everything.
It’s life-affirming because we can see that Agathe and Francois aren’t living any sort of authentic existence. They probably wanted to blow it up anyway, and might’ve invented Patrick if he hadn’t found his way, burping and scratching, into their lives.
Huppert, the French star who also appears in “Amour” this week, is well-suited to her uptight role. Agathe’s the kind of fusspot who insists that the black paint on the walls of her new exhibition isn’t black enough, despite a shade of noir that seems to convince everybody else.
The movie is owned by Benoit Poelvoorde, whose role would be played by Will Ferrell in a Hollywood remake. Give the actor credit for finding a streak of desperation and envy in Patrick’s jovial manner; this is a clown who works out of panic.
Patrick remains ingratiating, perhaps because he has the self-awareness to recognize his limitations like when he gives up on a possible seduction by telling his nonresponsive female friend, “If a girl’s IQ is over 80, my charm stops working.”
“My Worst Nightmare” is directed by Anne Fontaine, whose successful career includes “Coco Before Chanel” from 2009.
She likes to explore the place between comedy and drama, but this one tilts decidedly toward the comic, which makes it likely to be a stateside hit at the arthouse level. And then, we’ll see what Will Ferrell thinks of it.
“My Worst Nightmare” (2½ stars)
A boorish handyman (Benoit Poelvoorde) moves in on the lives of an upper-class Paris couple, upending their existence in a predictable but generally amusing way. Poelvoorde (whose role would be played by Will Ferrell in a Hollywood remake) is matched by Isabelle Huppert, as the uptight boss of the household. In French, with English subtitles.
Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for subject matter.
Showing: SIFF Film Center.