If a readiness to have kids is a mark a person’s maturity, then Thomas Platz (Raphaël Personnaz) is positively adolescent at the start of The Stroller Strategy. The protagonist of Clément Michels’s farcical rom-com is content to muddle through his freelance illustrator’s lifestyle, while making excuses to his live-in girlfriend, Marie Deville (Charlotte Le Bon), for his reluctance to become a father. Eventually, she leaves him, citing a lack of progress in their relationship and, as the film jumps forward a year, Thomas, still smarting, plots to win her back.
The maturation of the irresponsible young cad is no uncommon theme in cinema, but The Stroller Strategy goes easy on Thomas, defining his lack of adult credentials simply by his unwillingness to procreate. That reluctance, though, quickly changes when a young tot literally falls out of the sky. As Thomas walks up to his apartment, he catches infant Léo, who’s dropped from above by a neighbor gripped by a severe medical emergency. While the woman convalesces in the hospital, Thomas looks after his new young charge, passing him off as his own in an attempt to win back Marie, while developing a genuine affection for the baby and thus, presumably, developing the paternal instincts he had formerly lacked to complete his indoctrination into manhood.
What follows is a series of comic incidents both rote and unfunny. In one scene, Thomas sips baby formula to encourage the reluctant Léo to partake, only to spit it out in disgust. Michel’s decision to accompany the visual punchline with a case of the camera shakes is redundant and doesn’t make the clichéd gag any funnier. Later, during a baby-massage class, the director pointlessly parodies the pottery scene from Ghost, throwing in a touch of gay panic to complete the misguided conceit.
But what really rankles about The Stroller Strategy is the way that its insistence on paternal instincts as the principal signifier of male adulthood leads it to sanction the most childlike behavior of all. Comically mirrored by his best friend, Paul (Jérôme Commandeur), a bachelor who pretends to be a father to try and meet women, Thomas’s antics are indulged with a wink because, unlike his eternally adolescent pal, he’s in it to win back the love of his life and impregnate her. When, late in the film, he essentially steals Léo back from the boy’s sleeping mother and rushes off to an event where Marie will be present, Thomas is duly taken to task. But even then his culpability in the event is spun positive because no matter how irresponsible (and unfunny) his behavior is, it’s all in the service of conforming to the film’s narrow conception of acceptable adult models of heterosexual coupling.