The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano forces divorced couple Alain and Valérie to travel together to attend their daughter's wedding, despite the hatred they vow towards each other.
According to the classic film Gilda (1946), “Hate is a very exciting emotion”. And few life events can fan heated emotive flames more than divorce. A bitter divorce can possess such ferocity that it can startle innocent bystanders. Such fierceness is exactly what French comedy The Volcano has going for it. Funny because it is happening to someone else, this three-way collision between Planes Trains and Automobiles (1987), The War of the Roses (1989) and Mamma Mia! (2008) applies a merciless eye on the bonds that extend beyond a marriage’s extinction.
As anyone who’s attended a wedding for the child of a divorced couple knows, the manipulations and maneuvering start months in advance. So it goes for Cecile, (Bérangère McNeese) a young French woman who is getting married to a local she met while holidaying in Corfu. En route to their child’s wedding in Greece, Cecile’s parents, Alain (Dany Boon) and Valérie (Valérie Bonneton), initially are blissfully unaware that they are on the same flight. But disaster strikes in the form of a forced landing in Munich thanks to the real-life event of the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
While there were recent problems with flight problems in Northern Australia due to activity at Indonesia’s Sangeang Api volcano, that was a mere bagatelle compared to the chaos inflicted when ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano caused weeks of flight delays across Europe back in 2010. The disruption to European air space became so pervasive that this film was actually titled Eyjafjallajökull during its European release. While the distributor has gone with the more accessible The Volcano for the Australian season, the impact is the same: Alain and Valérie throw themselves into a cut-throat race to get to their daughter’s wedding. Both are mutually horrified that they may have to make the trip together and are too competitive and proud to accept the idea that their ex-partner might get to their Greek Island destination before they do. So begins a ‘winner-take-all’ game that continues for the rest of the film. Between this once-betrothed pair, no tactic is too devious and no remark is too snide.
In terms of audience identification, the scales are noticeably tipped in favour of Alain. Probably as a nod to Boon’s stardom in France, Alain is not as mean as Valérie. However, he’s also not quite as smart as she is. Valérie, in contrast, is often too clever for her own good. This imbalance in their personalities is a neat reversal on the usual fighting couples scenario where the woman is generally characterised as the more sympathetic of the two.
Boon performs well as the boyish charmer who has never really taken charge of his life. Alain does have his fiendish moments, but he’s nothing in the Machiavellian stakes compared to his ex-wife. Bonneton appears to revel in the vicious outrageousness of Valérie. Throughout the film, the actress keeps a wild, obsessed look in her eye that is a joy to behold, but would be a hellish travel (or marriage) companion.
As can be guessed, when the pair set out from Munich airport in the last hire car available – a gorgeous Porsche – neither the form of transport nor their brief truce is likely to last. In that respect, the plot is predictable, but the form that it takes is not. Humorous twists abound and unanticipated encounters with hitchhikers and local villagers make for some uproarious surprises with gut-busting impact.
Not all of the film maintains that high-level of hilarity, but the comedy rarely slumps. Even the film’s detours into romance (or sentimentality for the less forgiving amongst you) feel justified. Believable? Well, no, but if a comedy leaves you time to consider plausibility then it clearly isn’t doing its job. The planes, cars and buses and boats may not arrive on time, but almost every joke in The Volcano has precise and pleasurable timing.