Sitcoms aren’t usually the first thing you think of when it comes to French television, but with Beautiful Loser they’ve come up with a classic. Not only is it funny and awkward (in a funny way), but there’s a charming sweetness at its core that’s reminiscent of heartwarming films like About a Boy where adults and children each help the other to grow up. Only here the growing up involves joining forces to find a decent drug dealer.
Growing Up is Overrated
When we first meet the 31 year old Julien (Sebastien Chassagne), he’s anything but a vibrant, active young go-getter. When his mother (Nathalie Cerda) wakes him up by coming into his bedroom and pulling open the curtains, we already know this is a guy who’s in no hurry to go anywhere. While she thinks he is off to a menial job or something, especially when they both leave the house bright and early, that's far from the case. After the two leave together, he sneaks back into the house, lights up a joint, fires up his video game system, and promptly gets caught by his mum.
So how could it possibly get worse
Julien doesn’t have a job and he’s pretty much homeless (he complains to his mum that his apartment is currently having asbestos removed, but c’mon...). So she sets him up with a job at the local high school, but when he arrives he ends up bonding with a bunch of teen dope-smokers over their shared passion for smoking dope. Julien meets student Jacques (Theo Fernandez), who Julien asks to help hook him up with a local dealer as he’s only just moved back home. The bad news is, he then gets caught by the principal, which kills his chances of getting the job. The good news is…
Love will keep us together
… as Julien is leaving the school he runs into Marie (Marie Kauffman), his old high school flame. She’s now a teacher – and clearly well out of his league – but that doesn’t stop him trying for a date. Surprisingly she says yes, at which point Julien realizes he’s broke. Does our hard-working hero apply himself now that he has a good reason to want to make some money? Or does he ask his mum for pocket money and take a nap?
Sometimes the past should stay buried
When Julien finally arrives for his dinner with Marie, it doesn’t take long to figure out that she has her life together in a way that Julien does not. So why did they break up as teenagers under mysterious circumstances? It turns out her suddenly vanishing from his life had a lot to do with a teenage pregnancy and her ultra-strict parents.
Julien, showing the lack of math skills that clearly have something to do with why he can’t hold down a job, takes longer than you might think to connect the dots. It gets worse: when she shows him a picture of their son, he recognizes him from his earlier attempted drug deal. Will Julien stay and deal with all this like an adult? Why start adulting now?
Tomorrow is a brand new day
And with that, the stage is set for a tale of two teenagers – one physically, one mentally – bonding over a shared love of all the usual teenage things: drugs, video games, and internet porn.
But Chassagne’s often hilarious performance plays up Juilen’s innocence underneath his laziness and slacker ways; he’s not a bad guy, just someone who’s never really had to grow up. And while Marie might seem like a stock sitcom character – she’s the serious one there to frown upon her son’s teenage ways and her ex’s shiftless life – she’s never cast as the bad guy here. She was a single mother at fifteen and missed out on all the typical teenage fun: it’s no wonder she takes things seriously.
It’s the relationship between Julien and Jacques that really makes this stand out. Julien wants to do the right thing and be a part of his son’s life, but it’s clear he’s hardly cut out to be much of a father figure. It’s not just that he still clearly has a crush on Marie, or that hanging out with his son without telling him he’s his father is bound to end in tears… though all of those things are certainly fairly large obstacles. It’s that it’s pretty much impossible for Julien to be a father to a teenager when he’s still basically a teenager himself: seeing him set himself down the path to growing up – while still hanging onto his love of good times and video games – makes a funny and well-crafted sitcom into something special.
Beautiful Loser is streaming now at SBS On Demand.