Superchondriac (Dany Boon, 2014)
Superchondriac has been the victim of some overly pretentious, judgey reviews in the States, but if you’re not a complete snob, there are plenty of laughs to be had in Dany Boon’s latest French comedy.
Dany Boon directs, writes, and stars in Superchondriac as Romain, a thirty-nine year old medical dictionary photographer with a serious case of hypochondria. After a debacle on New Year’s Eve, Romain’s doctor, Dimitri (Kad Merad – what a name) decides that the best medicine is love. After a couple of awkward (and hilarious) dates, Romain meets Dimitri’s sister, Anna (Alice Pol) who mistakes him for freedom fighter and refugee Anton Miroslav (Jean-Yves Berteloot). More than happy to play along if it means being looked after by the lovely Anna, Romain assumes the ‘Cherkistani’ identity which lands him in a spot of bother.
Hypochondriasis provides limitless opportunities for comedy – subway rides, kisses at midnight on New Year’s, dogs, kebab meat, carpets, and a shitload of hand sanitiser – and the first half of the film makes the most of it. And though Romain’s aversion to germs is extreme, you can empathise with him on many occasions – watching someone chew a chicken drumstick is pretty revolting, and when sick people cough on you IT’S TERRIFYING. Close-ups and sound effects served to highlight the gross-out factor, though the amount of hand-sanitiser used went beyond the realm of believable. After the film I went to the cinema toilets where I noticed a clump of hair on the ground and it gave me the heebie-jeebies. WHY IS THERE ALWAYS SO MUCH HAIR IN PUBLIC TOILETS?
In the second half, the film veers off into unexpected territory with a potentially political development, but thankfully not in the uber-boring way. My understanding of geography is so poor that I didn’t realise Cherkistan was a fake country (though I did wonder why I’d never heard of it). Most likely Romain’s attempts at speaking this fake language are funnier if you understand French (the humour may have been lost in the English subtitles). Despite this unexpected turn of events, the film continues to produce numerous laugh-out-loud moments, and I was relieved that there was no predictable ‘boy who cried wolf’ element.
Dany Boon plays the part of Romain for laughs, employing a slapstick style which may prove too exaggerated for some. Genuine hypochondriacs may take umbrage at the depiction of the mental illness as he does milk it to the extreme, assumedly acting way more hysterical than a true hypochondriac would. However, society isn’t quite so politically correct yet for this to come across as too offensive. The title itself should pre-warn viewers of its exaggerated depiction; it’s not to be taken seriously. It may not be as powerful as other films on offer at the French film festival, and it’s probably one of the few that doesn’t concern itself with infidelity. But for some light comic relief, Superchondriac is a winner.
Superchondriac is currently playing at the Alliance Française Film Festival