A film review by Craig J. Koban







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. 

The biggest 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. 

The 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. 

Yet, 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. 

However, 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 popular favour. 

The 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. 

Ultimately, 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.

I 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. 

Also, 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 of...stuff."  Yup.  Sure.  Uh-huh.

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. 

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