I believe I’ve just witnessed the silliest movie I’ve ever seen in my entire life. A musical comedy with a central theme of racism. Think ‘The Watermelon Man’ meets ‘Guys and Dolls’ minus the mobsters. Leave it to the French. The thing about director Etienne Chatiliez’s film ‘Agathe Clery’ is that as silly as it is, it is also equally engaging, winsome, funny and completely entertaining.
Valerie Lamercier assumes the title role of Agathe Clery, a hard working marketing professional for a major French cosmetics firm who is at the top of her profession and has just been named as Marketing Director. Her current project is a product called Scandinav, a line of makeup for people with very, very fair skin. Imagine Tiger Woods soon to be ex-wife and you have the target market for Scandinav.
Agathe does have a few issues in that she’s hated by everyone at the office, mainly because she’s a demanding asshole, and she’s also an insufferable racist. Well, as it is so succinctly put in song, she’s NOT a racist… she just doesn’t like Asians, Africans, Arabs, Kenyans, Iranians… put your ethnic group here… but she’s not a racist. When a resume or a CV (curriculum vitae) as they so elegantly call them over European way should pass across Agethe’s desk, and one of the applicant’s happens to be black… into the circular file that CV goes.
Then one day Agathe wakes up with a tan. This is a little peculiar considering Agathe hasn’t been in the sun and loathes tanning beds, plus she’s in physical pain and she’s getting progressively darker. A quick trip the doctor informs Agathe that she has Addison’s Disease with one of the effects of this disease being irreversible hyper melanin. Agathe’s worst fears are coming true because she will soon be a Black person. If I could’ve spoken to Agathe I would’ve told her that simply having dark skin doesn’t qualify one as a Black Person because there’s a helluva lot more to it than just skin color, but she’s not hearing me or anybody for that matter.
So distraught about this Agathe even tries to end her life… I mean she’s lot her job, frequently gets called dirty names in the street and her man has abandoned her… but she is saved by, you guessed it, a Black doctor named Nathalie (Nadege Beausson-Diagne). Natalie does slightly regret saving Agathe’s racist ass, but on the urging of Agathe’s caring parents, she takes it upon herself to train the woman on how to get by with her new life situation.
After an adjustment period and learning to deal with the rampant racism against her, one that has kept her unemployed despite her high skill level, Agathe eventually finds employment at a firm that only hires people of color. Then she meets the owner Quentin (Anthony Kavanagh) and its love at first sight. The thing is Quentin thinks he’s in love with an around the way sister and would be pretty darned upset if he learned that his lady love was a white woman, considering the problems he’s had with white people. Particularly this white person. And Agathe goes to great lengths to hide her true self from the man she loves. The only thing that could possibly go wrong for Agathe and her new glorious life of color would be if somehow, someway, her irreversible disease started to reverse itself. That couldn’t happen could it? Could it?
Who knew racism could be so much fun? But let’s get one thing out of the way first and foremost and that would be Valerie Lamercier makes for one mighty unattractive Black woman. Seriously, brown is not my girls color. It didn’t help matters that they often had her standing besides an authentic real life Black Woman in Nadege Beausson-Diagne who is one mighty fine looking Black woman. Distractingly fine. This did not help. The good things is eventually you should get past this minor fact because Valerie Lamercier is a wonderful actress and she is wonderful in this movie and all of that other nonsense will be pushed to the side.
What we have here is a movie with singing and dancing, and we’re talking full blown musical sets, is often completely ridiculous in its presentation, but yet it attacks the issue of racism head on. It does not shy away from its primary subject matter one bit and at times Chantiliez has his characters saying things that are outright offensive, but considering the fact the concept of racism is outright offensive handling it in any other way would’ve been… well… offensive. Plus the film exposes racism on so many different levels. There’s the outright racism that is Agathe Clery or the subtle racism that are Agathe’s friends, those who don’t consider themselves racist but say racist things, there’s the reverse racism of Quentin in addition to the randomness of racism and the outright ignorance of racism.
The problem with racism as a form as entertainment is that it is really a downer, so why not spice things up bit with some dance numbers? You know? I’m not saying ‘Agathe Clery’ is ‘A Chorus Line’ or anything but the music, the dancing and the singing are spirited and like any musical worth its salt the dance numbers come completely out of nowhere. Imagine how much more entertaining ‘Rosewood’ would’ve been with a few show tunes.
I don’t know if I could tolerate another racism based high kicking musical, and yes this movie is really silly on top of being very funny but if I had to watch one racism based comedic musical… yep, that musical would be ‘Agathe Clery’. And I also think this is one foreign film that is fairly safe from turning into a Big Hollywood Studio Remake.