Before taking a fantastical turn midway that’s one of the most unforeseeable in years, Ricky simmers as a naturalistic drama of a haphazardly recreated family under strain. Paris-area single mom Katie (Alexandra Lamy, wearing a mask of unshakable anxiety), who drops seven-year-old Lisa (Mélusine Mayance) at school daily via motorbike, catches the eye of fellow factory worker and Spanish immigrant Paco (Sergi López). Swiftly, the two consummate their break-time flirtation in a bathroom stall; eliding any further courtship sequences, writer-director François Ozon soon cuts to Paco moving into Katie’s council flat, drawing Lisa’s thinly disguised ire (“Your French is so bad”), who further has to compete with the new couple’s love child, Ricky (Arthur Peyret). Paco copes with working the night shift and providing daytime infant care, but is unable to explain the nastily reddened shoulder blades Ricky sustains under his watch. Katie erupts with accusations, but the bruises soon sprout growths that first look like tendrils—until they sprout feathers.
Given Ozon’s track record in bourgeois-set quasi-thrillers like Under the Sand and Swimming Pool, and scene-stealing young Mayance’s penchant for doll-throwing and ambiguous Ricky-minding, this disorienting twist offers the potential of horror among the working class. Yet after a few eerie close-ups of Cronenbergian baby mutation, Ricky turns to some laugh-aloud slapstick (this helmet-wearing infant’s equivalent of first steps involve bouncing off the ceiling) and media satire (TV crews chasing the family after their winged boy has been outed, Paco urging Katie to sell access to the kid to the highest bidder). But before it can reach the level of surefire American-remake fodder (Look Who’s Flying), Ozon’s film morphs once again, into a tragicomic parenting fable. Identifying precisely what the overarching metaphor for Ricky’s special status is will be debated, but Ozon’s climax of maternal acceptance suggests the loss of a child to terminal illness (echoes of the filmmaker’s Time to Leave) as the most plausible reading. Ricky’s quicksilver changes of mood and genre make for an engaging puzzle, but its last notes of transcendence seem insufficiently earned.