That’s life! (M, 115 min) Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toldano ★★★★
Olivier Nakache and Eric Toldano were the team behind the 2011 The Untouchables, which introduced the force of nature that is Omar Sy to the world and was just about the most enjoyable movie of this year.
In the years that followed, Nakache and Toldano became the very likable Samba – with also Sy – and now this – That’s life! (The Sense of the Party).
That’s life! takes place over night, with almost all of the action confined to one location; a country mansion hosting an opulent social wedding for an ostentatious young French business tyrant and a few hundred of his absolute best friends.
Responsible for putting on the show and somehow avoiding the entourage of the impending catastrophes that accompany any unrepeated public event, the mainstay of French cinema Jean-Pierre Bacri is the epic and weary Max of the world. During the duration of the film, Max will be faced with a staff mutiny, an outbreak of food poisoning, an ultimatum from his lover, a photographer who no longer likes being a photojournalist and a groom who treats his future wife like a another prop in a show in which he is determined to be the center of attention.
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The potential of That’s life! is perhaps diluted a bit by the size of the cast and the number of crises that Max faces. The tension and resulting hilarity never reaches the breathtaking extremes of a true grand farce.
Meanwhile, the script – which relies heavily on misunderstandings, double meanings, and puns for its laughs – loses a bit due to a tense mismatch from the caption crew. Making a decent joke is hard work. Making one that works in a second language must be nearly impossible. That’s life! sometimes proves this inconvenient truth.
From the moment one of the Tamil cooks casually mentions that he and his colleagues are all musicians, the film’s most indelible scene becomes inevitable. As for the Earth, the Wind and the Fire marked the dance in Untouchables, Nakache and Toldano are happy to let the film serve as a vehicle for the democratizing magic of music and the actors who evoke it. The representation of a modern Europe in microcosm – most evident in this scene – is the tacit kaupapa who gives That’s life! his heart and soul.
That’s life! starts off a little timidly, and a few of the many characterizations take a while to really come together. But once the film hits its straps – which it definitely does –That’s life! becomes a nice little gem, witty and at times downright poignant and insightful. Recommended.