A disjointed film that is perhaps overly ambitious with its intent. Like A Dirty French Novel takes a unique and at times welcome approach of being set during the pandemic, but not at all about it. Sadly it throws away what works with some unfathomable narrative choices and a continual shift in tone that never connects.
Hue (Robby Valls) and Crystals (Jennifer Daley) relationship is falling apart at the seams. Stuck together because of the pandemic, Hue spends most of his time in their small apartment in the bathroom, where he receives calls from a mystery woman. From here, we delve into the weird as people connected to the former couple begin to intertwine to an inescapable climax.
Like A Dirty French Novel wears the influences of its scenes and chapters firmly on its sleeve, but by being so obvious with said influences, it causes the non-linear narrative to stop in its tracks. Never flowing as naturally as it needs to, the struggle audiences will have with the film are made clear from the beginning. Such drastically different styles simply do not mesh well together and, as such either distract or leave you frustrated. You can see what is being attempted and almost applaud it; however, by trying to cram so much style and uniqueness to the film, we lose the film’s core.
Some of the acting works well, like in the first and third chapter, but by the time we get to the interlude portions, at times, you just want to give up due to how, honestly, terrible it is. This never really flows enough, and with the non-linear style, there really isn’t a need to include such moments. These parts become a horrible nuisance due to the poor over the top acting on display. There is one character that you are left truly wondering if they just grabbed her from the street and asked her to act weird. At best, it is a mistake; at worst, it completely removes you from the entire film.
This is so infuriating as there are some great moments here from the cast, especially as the film begins to form together in the third chapter. The standouts throughout this broken narrative are Robby Valls and Amanda Viola as Hue and Lane. You buy into their characters easily, and thanks to their personable nature, it drives the film forward. However, again it is such a shame that their good work is hindered by far too many dire performances around them. Yes, it is an ultra-low-budget film, but some care needed to be placed within the casting to make a film like this work.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the film is that if it had just kept to the chapters and ensured that the tone stayed similar throughout and removed the frankly nonsensical interlude, you would have had an interesting film. Sure it would have been a bit over the top, but there is the basis for a solid story here and with some of the main cast able to give decent performances. Sadly Mike Cuenca wastes this potential filling his film with fluff that should never have gotten past the first draft.
While ambitious and occasionally interesting, Like A Dirty French Novel flounders just as it begins to grab your attention, leaving you frustrated at what could have been.
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