Gaston Lagaffe (2018)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Gaston Lagaffe</strong> (2018)

(In French, On TV, December 2018) Given that Gaston Lagaffe was one of the comic book series with which I grew up, my expectations ran high about its newest movie adaptation. (There was one back in the early 1980s, but we don’t talk about it.) The biggest challenge in bringing Lagaffe to the big screen is that there is no real proper guide to follow—Lagaffe had been conceived as filler material for Belgian comics magazine Spirou, meaning that most of the albums are made out of one-page gags, or (at most) a short story a few pages long satirizing the inner workings of the magazine. What remains are the characters: Gaston, a well-intentioned but blunder-prone slacker inventor who tries to improve his workplace but usually ends up causing more trouble along the way. Then there’s the pets, the boss, the friendly girl (not necessarily the girlfriend), the policeman, the car, the various colleagues, and so on. This film sadly updates Gaston to modern standards, meaning than rather than go back to a 1960s magazine atmosphere, Gaston works for an internet company. Ew. But the betrayal of the characters runs deeper: Gaston as portrayed here by Théo Fernandez as an almost unlikable slacker with destructive propensities so acute that his boss (supposed to be an antagonist) becomes semi-sympathetic in dealing with Gaston. Weird. At least Alison Wheeler and Charlotte Gabris are nice to look at, and Wheeler does make for a great Mademoiselle Jeanne despite the wobbly screenwriting. Most of writer/director Pierre-François Martin-Laval’s movie plays dumb-for-dumb, lowering the level of the film to cheap gags; whatever flashes of brilliance usually come from the comics rather than the screenwriting itself further highlighting the contrast between the two. In between the grating characterization, dumb jokes, relatively low success rate of the jokes and missed opportunities, much of the film is merely so-so when compared to the source material. Fortunately, it does improve somewhat in the last few minutes, with an ending sequence that almost redeems Gaston and the film along with it. A rather cute singalong epilogue caps things off decently, but even a good last impression doesn’t do much to compensate for the film’s missed opportunities. This isn’t the only French movie to try and fail to do much with comic book source material—the CGI is there to free filmmakers from trying the same kind of gags than the comics, but the screenwriting lags far behind. But it’s too late to save Gaston Lagaffe from the results.

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