Kiss my farce

The Closet puts 'the lame in flamer'

For a straight man, Francis Veber spends a lot of time making gay films.

The writer of the original La Cage Aux Folles (and the US remake The Birdcage) and Partners (a laugh-free 1982 comedy starring John Hurt and Ryan O’Neal as cops going undercover as a gay couple) dips his shtick into queer waters once again with the French farce The Closet.

Boring accountant Francois Pignon (Daniel Auteuil) discovers that he’s about to lose his job. Convinced by his neighbour Belon to play gay because the company (a manufacturer of condoms) would never publicly discriminate against a gay man, Pignon finds himself elevated from office nobody to the name on everybody’s lips.

Women become interested in converting him, his homophobic co-worker (Gerard Depardieu valiantly playing the fool) buys him gifts in order to save his own job, and his estranged son wants to spend time with his now-cool dad.

Condensing a lifetime of gay experiences into one week, Pignon becomes the company mascot in a gay pride parade, is beaten by homophobes and accuses a female co-worker of sexually harassing him.

When Belon reveals that he was fired from a job 20 years ago for being gay and that his scheme is revenge, the moment has a poignancy that will resonate with gay viewers. As he coaches Pignon on how to be gay by simply acting as he always does, Belon says: “What’ll change is how they perceive you.” The insight hints at what an interesting and layered comedy The Closet could have been.

Instead, Veber takes the low-road, squandering an opportunity to skewer the dogma of political correctness and workplace politics, going for the obvious joke every time with no regard for character development, narrative consistency or, even, reality.

Depressingly predictable from beginning to end and too poorly executed to be memorable, let alone offensive, The Closet takes aim at easy targets (none of Pignon’s nasty co-workers appear to have ever seen a gay man before) and scores several mean-spirited laughs at their expense.

Putting the lame in flamer (the name Pignon is most often called, closely followed by faggot) The Closet feels dated and stale, a self-conscious throwback to less enlightened times masquerading as a hip anti-PC farce.

In the tradition of other questionable gay-for-a-day films like Three To Tango and Happy, Texas, The Closet exerts much frantic energy in a forced attempt at being colourful and wacky, but ultimately has nothing original, interesting nor particularly entertaining to say.

The Closet, in French with English subtitles, is now playing at the Cumberland (159 Cumberland St); call (416) 699-5971.

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TV & Film, Culture, Toronto

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