Even when I don’t completely enjoy a film by writer/director Quentin Dupieux (Deerskin, Rubber), I’m still hopelessly excited that he’s allowed to make movies at all, since there is certainly a not-so-distant parallel universe where someone with his amount of quirk, dark humor and zero shits to give about whether his movies do well at the box office or not does not get to take part in the making of movies at all. In one of his most overtly funny and accessible works, Mandibles, the filmmaker places us in the company of two dummies, the weaselly Jean-Gab (David Marsalis) and big lug Manu (Grégoire Ludig), who is tasked with a delivery for much-needed cash. But when they steal a car to carry out the deceptively simple task, they discover a giant fly trapped in the trunk, and their deficient minds immediately set about trying to figure out what to do with it, preferably something that results in making money.
Putting the delivery plan aside for now, Jean-Gab comes up with the scheme of training the fly to do tricks, then somehow translating that skill into performances that would naturally result in piles of cash. Manu seems to go along with this, but it’s a long road for these two geniuses, one paved with the need for money right away just to buy enough food to feed their new pet, who seems to have a bottomless stomach. The (presumably) animatronic fly is a borderline magical feat that doesn’t require it to move around much, but the way it moves its head or legs even minimally is creepy and hilarious all at once.
Jean-Gab develops a real affection for the fly, and it does seem to respond to some of his training. All roads lead to Manu getting mistaken for a school friend of a woman named Cecile (India Hair), who invites the pair to her parents’ spacious home, where she, her brother Serge (Roméo Elvis), and their friend Agnes (Adèle Exarchopoulos, from Blue is the Warmest Color) are staying, mostly luxuriating by the pool. The film practically takes on a “Three’s Company” vibe as Jean-Gab must attempt to hide the fly from the prying eyes of Agnes, who has a minor brain injury that keeps her normal speaking voice at full volume, making her seem angry all the time. She’s also the resident chef of the group, so even her detailing her latest culinary delight takes on an aggressive tone with all her yelling. The cumulative impact is extremely funny.
None of these characters are necessarily people you’d relish the idea of hanging out with, but their adventures are compelling enough that you’d happily sit and listen to someone detail a story or two about them, more than likely failing at some menial task. As silly as the two leads can be, Exarchopoulos effectively steals the show every time she opens her mouth. The first time she sees the fly, her delayed reaction is priceless, and it eventually leads to everyone believing she’s done something far more grotesque than hauling a big fly around. I fully acknowledge that Mandibles is not going to be for everyone, but as an admirer of Dupieux, I found it one of his more charming and awkwardly funny works. The sharp edges of some of his previous films is a bit more shaved off here, making it less prickly, and I think that’s for the best every so often with someone with his sensibilities.
The film has a limited theatrical engagement and is available via VOD.
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