As demeaning as it may be to present French Kissers as a Gallic version of Gregg Mottola’s Superbad, the comparison is necessary to show how Riad Sattouf’s film differs from Mottola’s in its hormone-crazed nostalgia. Like many films forged from the Judd Apatow mold, Superbad assumes that the travails of its dickhead protagonists are at an end once they’ve fulfilled their dreams of either asking out or scoring with the girl of their wet dreams. French Kissers recognizes the simplicity of that simple logic and veers in another direction. Hervé (Vincent Lacoste), a loveably greasy little loser that beats off to the French equivalent of the Sears catalogue, does eventually make it with Laura (Julie Scheibling). The trouble is he doesn’t know what to do with her—or himself, for that matter—once he has.
Hervé’s clearly making bigger strides with his special lady friend than his buddy Camel (Anthony Sonigo) is with Aurore (Alice Tremoliere), but that’s not saying much in the long run. Laura isn’t so much his partner as his stepping stone to bigger and more icky questions: Now that he can get with girls, should he stick with Laura and immediately suffer for having to wait for her to become sexually comfortable with him or sow his wild oats now with another philly? Hervé’s now not just awkward, but awkward and amorous, as is painfully obvious from the myriad of icky close-ups of Hervé’s blackhead-studded mug as he slobbers all over Laura.
Sattouf’s treatment of that huge step forward in Hervé’s immediate social standings as a miniscule step forward in his sexual experience is what separates French Kissers from Superbad’s horndogs or even Beavis and Butt-head. Sattouf isn’t just interested in nostalgia for a period when boys could be both sexually immature and proud about it. He wants to lampoon those boys’ simple-minded notion of transforming overnight into studs after they’ve planted their first hickey on a girl.
Sex is always on Hervé and Camel’s overheated minds, from the bananas in the school vending machine to their hottie high school principal, played by French bombshell Emanuelle Devos. But Sattouf is looking back on events from a kinder and wiser vantage point, recognizing that there’s much more to Hervé story than the Apatow crew’s screw-to-succeed credo.
A great deal of importance is accordingly put on Hervé’s mother (Noémie Lvovksky). She intentionally walks in on Hervé while he masturbates just to tease him and goes with him to one of his big parties, firstly to shake herself out of her own depression, but also to show Hervé that, ultimately, these major events in his life are really no big deal. Sex matters (why else would we need to see Hervé and Camel jerk off together in their respective tube socks on two separate occasions?), but knowing just how much matters more.
French Kissers will play on March 12 and 16 as part of this year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series. To purchase tickets, click here.