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Bye Bye Morons review – French farce with a touch of Monty Python

Winner of Best Film at the 2021 César Awards, Albert Dupontel’s screwball comedy stars Virginie Efira as a woman out to find her son

When the global pandemic wiped the majority of last year’s films from the release slate, the hope was that awards season would be opened up to a higher number of movies that veered from the beaten path. That didn’t quite pan out in the US, where the American fable Nomadland triumphed at the Oscars, but at France’s equivalent César Awards, Bye Bye Morons, a silly buddy movie with some heart, was crowned Best Film.

Paul Verhoeven’s muse Virginie Efira plays Suze, a barmy hairdresser who describes the patterns on an X-ray scan showing her auto-immune disease as “forget me nots.” She is in a state of disarray knowing that her life might be about to irrevocably change, and worries that she’s unfulfilled. A creatively shot flashback shows her looking in the mirror at her younger self, and then zooming into a sped-up recollection of her tearaway youth, which resulted in her giving away a child.

Newly determined to make contact with her biological son, she briefly struggles to navigate the bureaucracy between herself and that all-important name. But director Albert Dupontel isn’t delivering a sobering social-realism feature. Instead, he arrives on-screen as Jean-Baptiste, the IT technician who attempts a workplace suicide, but ends up accidentally shooting one of his office workers. Suze sees it all, steals the evidence, and holds it over Jean-Baptiste’s head until he helps her find her lost son.

A Monty Python-streak is visible in this set-up – and that's before one even notices the dedication to Terry Jones and “special participation” of anti-Me Too icon Terry Gilliam, who appears as a gun-toting redneck (an easy pot-shot at the underclass from a wealthy “free speech” asshole). And like the Pythons, creative flourishes transform stilted, overlong scenes into something a little more engaging – the use of CCTV footage to show movement through government spaces, for example. Dupontel has a passing interest in the weird, technocratic system of modern France, and is clearly mistrustful of the bumbling police and anti-terrorism agents who tail our heroes.

Bye Bye Morons develops into a plangent throwback film that foregrounds character over spectacle. There may be some awkward gags at the expense of the blind that seems straight out of the 1980s, but as Dupontel builds, nicely, to a Cyrano de Bergerac-esque sequence, the broad and crude humour begin to feels more and more like the film’s beating heart.

At the risk of sounding like a nostalgist, Bye Bye Morons is the kind of film Hollywood just wouldn’t make anymore. Engaging with serious – but not cynically prevalent – themes of illness, family ties, and technology, it finds meaning through codified characterisation and consistent logic. Dupontel’s violent screwball comedy at times recalls the visionary filmmaking of Danny DeVito, whose own zany works balanced Hitchcockian tension with childlike goofs. As an action-packed buddy comedy featuring middle-aged stars, it also does a fine job of showing up Hollywood’s shallow narcissism.

Bye Bye Morons is now showing in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.

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