A farcical affair

The Valet

The Valet Starring Gad Elmaleh, Daniel Auteuil, Alice Taglioni, Kristin Scott Thomas and Virginie Ledoyen. Directed by Francis Veber. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

A nerdy-looking parking valet must pretend to be romancing a supermodel, as cover for a millionaire businessman who is trying to conceal his own affair with that model from his business-partner wife.

That’s the basic premise of the latest variation on bedroom farce from French writer-director Francis Veber, and it gets an amiably frisky workout in 80-plus minutes of sprightly comic entertainment. A lively and attractive cast fleshes out the Veber sense of humor, which is largely conventional, but not without a certain edginess in the scrambling of multiple character sympathies.

The obvious villains of the piece, the self-deceiving millionaire and his equally shrewd and conniving wife, are played with mildly corrosive charm by the biggest names in the cast, Daniel Auteuil and Kristin Scott Thomas, respectively. But the film’s good-natured generosity of spirit emerges most vitally through gaunt, dreamy-eyed Gad Elmaleh (as the seemingly hapless parking valet) and the warmly intelligent Alice Taglioni (as the long-legged blonde supermodel).

Big chunks of the film veer toward the predictable and familiar territory of TV sitcoms and Hollywood remakes, but The Valet also succeeds on its own modestly witty terms. In its intermittently surprising attention to the stories of the secondary characters—the supermodel, the millionaire’s wife, the valet’s true love (a bookstore proprietor played by Virginie Ledoyen), etc.—it parlays feel-good comedy into something with a certain worldly honesty about the limits of romantic wish fulfillment.

Three footnotes of some import: the French title of the film is La Doublure, which means “stand-in"; the parking valet is called François Pignon, a name used by Veber for key comic characters in three previous films (including one played by Auteuil in The Closet); and Elmaleh is Moroccan by birth, and therefore also an intriguing minority presence in this comedy of the French bourgeoisie.