The brusque CEO of a major French car manufacturer (Fabrice Luchini) is rushed to hospital after experiencing a major stroke. While making a reasonable physical recovery, he is left without the capacity for speech. When he tries, he instead speaks a jumble of related words – most homonyms – that see him ridiculed by strangers, and which costs him his lucrative and powerful job. His only hope is a sympathetic speech therapist (Leila Bekhti) and his estranged college student daughter (Rebecca Marder) whom he has emotionally neglected for several years.
Fabrice Luchini delivers a superbly sympathetic performance in A Man in a Hurry, the latest feature from French writer/director Herve Mimran. The screenplay, by Mimran and co-writer Helene Fillieres, is based on the memoir of Christian Streiff – the former Airbus and PSA Peugeot Citroën CEO who experienced a highly similar stroke to what Luchini’s character Alian Wolper suffers here. There is potentially a fine line to navigate here, since there is a risk of mocking a serious health issue, but through a well-balanced screenplay and Luchini’s wonderfully on-point performance it runs with the concept perfectly well. Wolper is a tricky character to play, since he needs to be unpleasant and likeable in the same film. He behaves appallingly in places, yet needs to engage the audience’s empathy. Luchini achieves this; he is the film’s most valuable asset.
Wolper’s unusual manner of speech must have been a nightmare to subtitle. Sometimes he simply declares an unintentional rhyme. Sometimes it’s the opposite word; saying “bonjour” when he means “au revoir”. Of course a rhyme in French is not necessarily a rhyme in English, and that cause more than a few lines to be rewritten for the non-French speaking audience. It is rare that a foreign film’s subtitling bears mentioning, but in this case it’s a strong achievement well worth noting.
Leila Bekhti is similarly strong as Jeanne, Wolper’s speech therapist who doggedly follows him around when he refuses to abide by her own treatment schedule. She is a powerful presence in his life, refusing to entirely kow-tow to his demands and challenging him when everybody else would simply do what they are told. An authentic friendship builds between them as the story goes on. At the same time Jeanne struggles to find her biological mother, having been given up for adoption as a baby. It is a strange sub-plot that never quite feels connected to the main storyline, either narratively or thematically. One could maybe argue it’s all about finding your true self, but that feels like a weak connection to me. Jeanne is also romantically chased throughout the film by a hospital orderly (Igor Gotesman, coming across as the French version of American star Chris Pratt).
Rebecca Marder is good as Wolper’s daughter, but struggles with a comparatively underwritten role. The film backloads her story to the latter half-hour of the film, which makes it feel unbalanced and rushed. The film also noticably stumbles in that third act, with a need to wrap up not only Wolper’s story but side-plots for both his therapist and daughter. Mimran’s solution is to speed through the plot via more montages than a mid-80s Rocky sequel. It does not ruin the film, but it does dent it somewhat, and succumbs to much of the sentimentality that earlier scenes avoid.
Ultimately A Man in a Hurry is still an excellent character-focused comedy. It respects its premise and delivers its share of both laughs and drama. Its lead performance is tremendous. It is a wonderfully amiable. In terms of pure heartfelt joie de vivre it is going to be tough to beat.
A Man in a Hurry (Un Homme Presse) will tour Australia from 5 March as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2019. Click here for more information on this and other French language films screening this year.