Slap Her, She’s French



aka Freche Biester! : USA (Germany/USA) 2002 : Melanie Mayron : 90-1 mins

Slap Her, She’s French is a satire so broad and gentle it often ends up as flat as the Texan plains on which it’s set. Holding up the citizens of the Lone Star State for our ridicule may be topical with local boy George W Bush ensconsed in the White House, but it’s by now a lazy conceit. Slap Her may never quite plumb the humourless depths of, say, Happy, Texas – it does manage to raise the odd laugh or two – but at no stage do either director Mayron nor scriptwriters Lamar Damon and Robert Lee King ever convince that comedy is their forte.

This is a shame, because both their leading ladies – Jane McGregor (who plays high-school prima donna Starla Grady as a solipsistic combo of Heather Graham and Reese Witherspoon) and Piper Perabo (as French exchange student “Genevieve LePlouff”) – show much more flair than the patchy material would seem to allow. After an ominously clunky prologue (the first ‘gag’ consists of Starla throwing up on a police-station floor) Slap Her takes a sudden and unexpected turn for the better: with a pitch-perfect pastiche of Badlands as Starla flashes back and starts narrating her story to an upbeat piano accompaniment as the camera sweeps across the golden-skied landscape.

While this does turn out to be the film’s satirical highpoint, there are amusing touches of both All About Eve along the way as the seemingly sweet “Genevieve” slowly reveals Machiavellian skills to undermine Starla’s position as cheerleading queen of the campus. She eventually supplants Starla on the gridiron, executing an X-rated ‘sizzle’ routine that’s shot as a mild parody of American Beauty – not such a surprising development considering Beauty scribe Alan Ball supplied an (uncredited) script rewrite.

Intermittent flashes remain of the slightly darker, edgier, Single White Female territory one imagines Ball pursuing, but these are soon ignored in search of safer laughs – the climax, in which the true identity of “Genevieve” is revealed, is a fatally damp squib. You know you’re in trouble when even Michael McKean (of Spinal Tap and Best in Show fame) struggles to inject life into the underwritten supporting role of Starla’s lascivious French teacher, Monsieur Duke.

Among several lame running gags, Starla’s mother (Julie White) is oftens seen loading her ‘ice tea’ with booze – the film, however, is content to serve up a much blander cocktail. By the end, audiences would be forgiven for feeling they’ve overdosed on Diet Pepsi: especially as the soft drink features in several unforgivably crude instances of product placement, including not one but two separate mentions in the dialogue.

20th October, 2002
(seen 3rd, Odeon Mansfield)

by Neil Young
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