‘Mandibles’ is Not Your Usually Hollywood Fare, Thank Goodness
I came out of Quentin Dupieux’s “Mandibles” (French title: “Mandibules”) not sure what to think of it right away. Part of me was expecting an uproarious comedy, but while there are some good laughs to be had, this is not a laugh riot like “Airplane” or “The Naked Gun.” Moreover, the screenplay is a bit flimsy to where the film really shouldn’t work. But even if “Mandibles” is not quite what I expected, it is certainly never boring, and I cannot deny that I enjoyed it.
We are introduced to the main character of Manu (Grégoire Ludig) when an acquaintance spots him sleeping on the beach even as the water washes over him. This acquaintance offers Manu a job; pick up a suitcase and deliver it to a mystery man for a nice big wad of cash. Manu, who has just been recently rendered homeless, jumps at the opportunity, steals a beat-up car which happens to be unlocked, and he brings his longtime friend Jean-Gab (David Marsais) with him for backup. On their way down the road, however, they hear a buzzing coming from the rear. Upon opening up the trunk, they discover there is a housefly the size of a suitcase residing there, and it is the kind you have to check in because it will not fit in the overhead bin.
Now in any other movie, the characters would be wondering where this fly came from and how it got so big, but Manu and Jean-Gab are as interested in asking these questions as Dupieux is in answering them for the audience. Instead, they look at this oversized creature as something they can train for their own benefit to where they can get it to steal food and money for them. From there, we watch as these two characters, who are far too simple-minded for their own good, fumble about in training their new pet fly (Jean-Gab eventually calls it Dominique) while stumbling into various situations they have no business being in.
Dupieux is working with absurdist comedy here as he gives us two male characters whose collective IQs are not very high to put it mildly. They end up kicking an old man out of his trailer so they can train the fly in it, but Manu accidentally burns it to the ground. Seriously, these two are the kind who jump at any get rich scheme in a heartbeat to where their unbridled enthusiasm overwhelms any real thoughts or plans they could possibly put together. They would have been over the moon had they found that advertisement which promised 11 records for a penny, and I take great pleasure in knowing their SAT scores are far worse than mine ever were.
“Mandibles” then shifts into high gear when Manu is met by a beautiful blonde named Cécile (India Hair) who mistakes him for someone she went to school and eventually made out with. Manu cheerfully plays along, and he and Jean-Gab find themselves as guests at a beach house which comes with great vistas, a nice swimming pool and tons of food for the starving duo. Of course, they still have to keep the fly a secret from their hosts, but we know their cover will eventually be blown and their pet discovered. Or will it?
Watching Ludig and Marsais here is endlessly entertaining as they try to stay one step ahead of their suspecting hosts. That they are able to do so speaks more of dumb luck than anything else. They also have their characters saying “toro” to one another in the same way Johnny Depp kept saying “forget about it” in “Donnie Brasco.” “Toro” takes on different meanings for Manu and Jean-Gab as they explain to others how it works for them, and this helps to cement the strong connection they have with one another even as they insult one another, pretending they are brighter than the other.
Another performance worth noting is the one from Adèle Exarchopoulos. She portrays Agnès, a young woman who cannot help but speak at an ear-splitting volume due to a skiing accident she endured which left her with brain damage. Basically, she is like a certain character Will Ferrell played on “Saturday Night Live” who suffered from Voice Immodulation Syndrome, and every word she utters is magnified to an alarming extent. While this threatens to be a one-joke character, and this is a hit and miss comedy, I have to give Exarchopoulos credit for not making Agnes too broad. She could have easily fallen into an acting trap but does not, and the realization when she makes a certain discovery (you will know it when it comes) is worth the price of admission.
I also have to say the fly itself is wonderfully realized by the filmmakers. It looks real without ever coming across as some chintzy special effect. Kudos to actor and puppeteer Dave Chapman for portraying the fly as he makes this creature more than just something which could have easily turned into a wisecracking sidekick. As much as I would have loved for this fly to have down to earth conversations with Manu and Jean-Gab, it’s just as well it did not happen here.
When it comes to Dupieux, he is best known for his film “Rubber” which is about a tire which comes to life and kills people with psychokinetic powers. I have not seen that one, but I did watch his film “Wrong Cops,” a black comedy I could not quite get on the same wavelength with even when I wanted to as its cast gave their material their all. With “Mandibles,” however, I found myself appreciating the conflicts he gleefully subjected these characters to throughout.
“Mandibles” isn’t quite what I hoped it would be, but what unfolded before my eyes on the silver screen, and it was very nice to see this or any other movie on the silver screen in this age of pandemic, proved to be entertaining from start to finish. Some may enjoy it more than others, but there is more to a movie like this than many of the summer blockbusters currently inhabiting the local multiplexes around the world. When all is said and done, it is always welcome to have a piece of cinema which does not conform to Hollywood formulaic standards.
* * * out of * * * *