Given the vast array of efforts churned out by Hollywood studios over the past thirty years, you could be excused for thinking that everyone loves a teen comedy. A cinema staple since Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times At Ridgemont High reinvented the category, the genre hails back to greats Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, American Graffiti and Grease, growing in stature after John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off cemented it in popular consciousness.
In the years that followed, more joined the ranks, including Porky’s (and two sequels) and Revenge Of The Nerds (and three sequels) from the 1980s, House Party (and three sequels) and American Pie (and seven sequels) from the 1990s, Bring It On (and four sequels) and Van Wilder (and two sequels) from the past decade. By no means the sole domain of serial offenders, notable one-offs have included Heathers, Clueless, Dazed and Confused, Empire Records, Can’t Hardly Wait and 10 Things I Hate About You, as well as recent fare Mean Girls, Superbad and Juno. In terms of sheer numbers alone, teen comedies are here to stay.
Of course, the one common element that the aforementioned films share, other than genre, is their origin. As the nation that invented the teenager and generates the market demand for the majority of products that are indispensable to the age group, the United States has been the bastion of teen comedy for generations. Thankfully, other countries – as evidenced by Britain’s Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging and St Trinian’s – are slowly starting to try their hand at this specific niche within the broader coming-of-age range.
It is within such a rich recent history that The French Kissers emerges, a fresh and funny film certain to become a cult hit. With the added unlikely honour of being the first modern French teen comedy with a significant international presence, the debut feature from Pascal Brutal graphic artist Riad Sattouf (also responsible for co-writing the script with Marc Syrigas of Replay fame) assembles a cast of unknown French teens in their first feature roles. Accompanied by a simmering soundtrack of atmospheric electropop tunes by Flairs, it tells a hilariously charming tale of growing up and making out in Europe.
Fourteen year old Hervé (Vincent Lacoste, César-nominated for most promising actor) likes girls. He dreams about them, stares at them, follows them and tries to talk to them, all with little success. Alas, the closest he comes to members of the fairer gender is his quirky single mother (Noémie Lvovsky, My Wife Is An Actress), who he avoids when he can. Instead, he swaps magazines, compares online conquests and shares the most private of moments (putting a pair of socks to creative use) with his long-haired best friend Camel (Anthony Sonigo), who is similarly obsessed with the opposite sex.
After receiving a very public dressing down at the hands of the current object of his affections, Laura (Julie Scheibling), Hervé is resigned to continuing to satisfy his own needs. Then, almost by accident, he catches the eye of Aurore (Alice Trémolière). They begin dating, with Hervé hardly able to believe his luck. Camel, feeling left out and lonely, is not so thrilled about Aurore’s sudden intrusion into his friendship. As a result, Hervé is left with the age-old conundrum of choosing between his friend and his girlfriend – or having the choice made for him thanks to his tendency to over-exaggerate his amorous accomplishments.
Reminiscent of 2008 Palme d’Or winner and fellow French teen-themed film The Class in its appropriation of documentary conventions amidst a fictionalised storyline, The French Kissers is an unexpected treasure. Although the cinema marketing campaign focused on comparisons to U.S. products, any resemblance is purely superficial, and does not do the film justice. Unlike suggestions inferred by its “French American Pie” label, it eschews staged situation comedy relying on the grotesque use of props. Instead, it presents organic laughs that stem from a connection with the characters, as well as the inclusion of familiar and relatable incidents.
Further, the casting of non-professional actors chosen from taped auditions of hundreds of Parisian high school students adds to the legitimacy and authenticity, as does Sattouf’s unassuming direction and witty, gritty script. Indeed the entire cast – brimming with awkwardness, angst and wayward emotions – are exceptionally apt in their roles, with the buddy team of Lacoste and Sonigo the most engaging of the group. Accordingly, the feature is a hip and honest exploration of youth that captures the pain and pleasure of hormone-fuelled sexual awakenings. A smart, sincere and stylish teen classic in the making, The French Kissers is a refreshing entry into a crowded genre, straddling the coming-of-age and sex comedy paradigms with skill, flair and actual hilarity.