To be sure, Francis Verber has talent. With the wildly funny "Dinner Game", he showed that he was able to weave
hilarious situational comedy. Unfortunately, "The Closet" does not pick up where "The Dinner Game" left
off. There's nothing awful about it, but in a failed attempt to put a new spin on Verber's creation Francois Pignon, "The
Closet" never delivers.
Francois Pignon (Daniel Auteuil) is considered an idiot by many who work with him at
a condom factory and is on the verge of being fired. He gets word of this, and dismayed turns to his new neighbor Belone
(Michel Aumont). Belone suggests a tricky scheme to save Pignon's job: pretend that he is gay and the company will never
fire him if they want to save their image. The scheme is working, and on the other side of the spectrum there is another
prank being played. Homophobe Felix Santini (Gerard Depardieu) is being pressured to act nice to Pignon to save his job,
and unexpected things begin to happen.
Francois Pignon is one of the funnier characters I have encountered in recent
years. In Verber's previous film he was a flat-out idiot, meaning well but always saying the wrong things and the wrong times.
In "The Closet", everyone calls him an idiot, but I don't buy it. He seems perfectly intelligent to me. Pignon
is translated here as a boring punch line without the setup. Much to my surprise, I found that I couldn't care less what
happens to him over the course of the film. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I could give to Verber from an audience
member's perspective is: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Only partly because of Pignon's shortcomings does the film
fall flat. Most of the jokes just aren't funny. They're the same sort of recycled gay jokes we get all the time in movies.
The screenplay feels worn and tired, and what could've been a breath of fresh air becomes recycled and stale. Verber is
merely taking an interesting idea and presenting the obvious "What-ifs" that immediately pop into one's mind when
hearing a synopsis about the film.
The acting was incredibly sub-par as well. Daniel Auteuil, who is on the whole
a very good actor gives a performance as monotone and boring as Pignon is (see him in "The Widow of Saint-Pierre"
if you really want to see what he's made of). Gerard Depardieu is fair, but doesn't show enough desperation that we are told
Felix so obviously has. Michele Laroque breathes a little more life into her character Mlle Bertrand, Pignon's secretary;
she is the highlight of an ensemble that is relatively uninteresting and never shows enough range.
is a wasted opportunity. In situational comedy, we need to care about or at least understand the characters to a certain
extent or it will be impossible to laugh when they get into trouble. While Verber seemed like he could handle that, in "The
Closet" it doesn't seem he believes in his characters; as if he believes that the audience need only take them at face
value. Unfortunately, "The Closet" ranks as one of the most disappointing ventures of the year.