A classic romantic comedy construct with enough bells and whistles to entice even the most jaded viewer, The Valet’s smooth control over its Fake Relationship bluff deserves a generous tip. Jack-of-all-trades filmmaker Richard Wong proves himself adept at maintaining the messy machinery of Hollywood starlet Olivia (Samara Weaving), her married real estate tycoon lover Vincent (Max Greenfield) and the haplessly embroiled valet Antonio (Eugenio Derbez) used to cover up their affair. As Antonio and Olivia pretend to be a couple snapped in a paparazzi photo, the Francis Veber remake takes the opportunity to inject its update with American complexity while retaining the tried-and-true humor of its French comedy master. The Valet parks itself squarely between the lines of established genre tropes, but with such precision and flair that you can’t help but be charmed.
So much of The Valet’s success relies on its highly specific adaptation from sitcom veterans Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg, who apply the story’s familiar structure to L.A.’s industry and multiculturalism. Olivia isn’t just a famous face, but a melancholy feminist trying her best to tell “women’s stories” while jumping through all the sexist hoops of the movie biz. Antonio isn’t just a big-hearted blue-collar worker, but a first-generation Mexican American representing the vast underclass supporting the glitz. Antonio’s mother Cecilia (Carmen Salinas, fantastically crass in her final performance) is hooking up with their Korean landlord Mr. Kim (Ji Yong Lee). Cecilia speaks Spanish. Mr. Kim speaks Korean. Neither speak English. Their relationship is either wordless or communicated through an intergenerational, multilingual game of telephone. These kinds of amusingly detailed gags could easily punch down—lambasting imperfection as hypocrisy; highlighting cultural difference with bigotry—but Fisher, Greenberg and Wong make sure these observations come across as nothing but endearing.
But perhaps the best thing about The Valet—which, on its fourth remake, does not boast “unique” as one of its factory-issued selling points—is that it is the rare modern comedy that knows how to tell a joke. Set-ups! Punchlines! Callbacks! There’s perhaps a single pop culture reference in the whole two hours (a Minecraft joke that earns its chuckle), which is a testament to the solid comedy fundamentals brought by Fisher and Greenberg. However, the same dedication to structure brought over from TV’s formulae could be partially to blame for the film’s extensive subplots.
It’s not just that Antonio is broke, older, Mexican American and without the jawline of Greenfield’s shit-eating little rich boy. It’s that his community is under direct threat from Vincent’s gentrifying empire, that his aging immigrant mother is stressed after a lifetime of hardship, that his estranged wife is simultaneously repelled and compelled by his miraculous relationship with a young blonde A-lister. The added layers of complexity soup up The Valet’s ride, but also extend it to an uncomfortable duration that’s luxury features keep it from being a literal pain in the ass. The French original, a purer class farce, clocks in at a mere 86 minutes. The American model is a far heftier 123 minutes—a narrative gas-guzzler. Its meandering can often be admirable—two private investigators (Ravi Patel and John Pirruccello) often steal the show with their bumbling buddy antics—but every once in a while its route can feel more circuitous than scenic.
But there’s plenty to enjoy along the way. Wong’s capacity for shooting language—layering rapid Spanish bickering with a realistic humor while controlling the subtitle and body language chaos towards continual punchlines—shines through in this thoroughly bilingual film. He also throws in a few strong visual gags that slow down, hyper-focus, or otherwise enhance the cartoonishness of the premise. It helps that aside from the stellar leads (the always-excellent Derbez and Weaving toss aside lines and elasticize their faces like born screwball stars), the cast is energetic, thoroughly game and well-written across the board. Antonio’s incredulous friends and family (Amaury Nolasco, Noemi Gonzalez, Armando Hernández, Carlos Santos) buzz around the central charade as a warm, gossipy, ball-busting and lived-in community. Their ubiquity and nuance speak to the natural relationship between character and setting that the filmmakers capture—it’s like each organically generated the other.
One of The Valet’s many pit stops as it journeys to its inevitable happy ending is a school play starring Antonio’s son. Their rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream gives us ample fodder for pathos (Weaving’s movie star gazing at the stage in earnest enjoyment) and laughs (Shakespeare is widely discussed amongst the characters), but most importantly serves as a reminder of timeless form. A comedy of carnival colors, chaotic upendings of social norms, and predictable pathways to solving tightly knotted entanglements. Turns out, those things are just as appealing in 2022 Los Angeles, 2006 Paris, and 1596 London. The Valet might not be blazing new trails, but it still knows what to do behind the wheel.
Director: Richard Wong
Writer: Bob Fisher, Rob Greenberg
Starring: Eugenio Derbez, Samara Weaving, Max Greenfield, Betsy Brandt, Marisol Nichols, Amaury Nolasco, Carmen Salinas, Noemi Gonzalez, Armando Hernández, Carlos Santos, Ravi Patel, John Pirruccello
Release Date: May 20, 2022 (Hulu)
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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