For most of us, the perfect summer getaway is pretty straightforward. There’s sun, sand, a tropical setting and plenty of interesting people to share it with. At the moment getting somewhere like that in person might be a bit of a problem. Luckily we’ve got the next best thing: French comedy-drama series Reunions.
Jeremy (Loup-Denis Elion) has a lot on his plate right now. In no particular order he’s discovered a): the identity of his father, b): that his father has just died, c): he has a half-brother, Antoine (Nicolas Bridet), and d): together they are now co-owners of a hotel on Reunion Island. You might think co-owning a tropical resort would be a pretty sweet deal, but Jeremy is a bit cautious. Is running a hotel with a brother he’s never met really such a good idea?
On the positive side, Reunion Island is about as tropical as it gets. A tiny French territory in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa, the volcanic island is well known for its sandy beaches, coral reefs and sugar plantations. One of the big strengths of Reunions is that it takes full advantage of where it was filmed. It’s constantly showing off the gorgeous scenery, using local actors, and digging down into the Créole culture of the island for plot points. It’s no mere backdrop – and it’s clear that if Jeremy and his family relocate here, they’re moving into a whole new way of life.
Unfortunately for him, he may not have a choice in the matter. For his wife Chloe (Laëtitia Milot), the news of this windfall was a godsend: she’s been sneakily running up some serious debts and selling off their share of the hotel seemed like the perfect way to cover her tracks and pay off the debts without the rest of the family realising. But as it rapidly becomes clear, the hotel is a dump and selling it off won’t come close to solving her problems. Her only option is to persuade her husband that a new start is exactly what they all need – and just hope they can put their troubles behind them.
There’s drama here, but it’s handled with a light touch that suits the sunny setting. First and foremost, Reunions is a series about a diverse range of people trying to figure out how to get along. Some of the divides are racial and cultural; despite a shared father, there’s a yawning gulf between Jeremy and Antoine. But it’s just as interested in the divides that take place in modern blended families, and how they struggle to cope with changing situations.
Take Dom (Nicolas Chupin). He’s Chloe’s ex and the father of her daughter, and he’s tagged along with Jeremy and Chloe to the island. He can’t move on from the relationship they once had because, despite his would-be bad boy image (loud shirts, big hair), he still has feelings for her; Chloe wants him around because she thinks her daughter needs her biological father in her life. How does Jeremy feel about all this? Don’t ask.
For other characters, the only sane response to this new situation is trying to get away as fast as possible. While Jeremy and Chloe’s son Enzo (Mathis Larobe), is young enough to just go with the flow and enjoy the new setting, Chloe’s daughter Vanessa (Marie de Dinechin) is in hell. For the teenager, leaving her life in Roubaix behind to go live (and inevitably end up as unpaid labour) at a struggling hotel on a tiny island is a fate worse than death.
Her escape plan is simple: just act like a complete brat every chance she gets until she’s so unbearable to have around they have to send her back. Only trouble is, it’s not her mother who cracks first, but Antoine’s pampered rich girl wife Victoire (Sara Martins). One slap later and the two mothers are at war. Is the island big enough for the both of them?
All of this barely scratches the surface of the inter-family dramas here. Victoire’s father is an island big shot, a powerful figure who puts his daughter first; Antoine has something of a dark past of his own and sees the arrival of his half-brother as a chance to make a new start; when Jeremy’s high maintenance mother turns up on the island things only get worse.
Even in a setting as idyllic as Reunion Island, families still plot and scheme amongst themselves; best just to sit back, relax, and soak it all in.
Reunions is streaming at SBS On Demand from 31 December.
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