French film “All Hands on Deck”, which received the Honorable Mention FIPRESI Prize when it was shown in the Panorama section at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival early in last year, is a small but crisp summer comedy about three different lads who happen to have an accidental summer vacation together. As cheerfully and humorously bouncing along them from one little comic moment to another, the movie lets us get to know more about not only them but also several other characters in the story, and it is actually a little poignant at times while never losing its lightweight touches.
During the opening part, the movie introduces us to a young black Parisian named Félix (Eric Nantchouang), and then it observes his one lucky night with a young woman named Alma (Asma Messaoudene). Although they are total strangers, something clicks between them as they dance together just like many other people around them, and Félix subsequently becomes quite determined to pursue Alma more, but, alas, she hurriedly leaves him in the very next morning because she needs to catch a train to take her to her hometown, which is incidentally some popular summer season town quite far from Paris.
Along with his best friend Chérif (Salif Cissé), Félix is going to travel to Alma’s hometown via a carpool provided by a Caucasian lad named Edouard (Édouard Sulpice), but his plan does not go that well from the beginning. Because Félix and Chérif used a fake ID for approaching to Edouard, Edouard is not so amused at all when he meets two big black guys instead of what he was actually expecting, and he does not get along with Félix that well because of their apparent difference in terms of race, class, and personality. In addition, Edouard’s car actually belongs to his mother, and we often get little laughs whenever he has to deal with his mother on the phone.
Anyway, our three main characters eventually arrive in Alma’s hometown, and they are soothed a bit by not only those nice landscapes but also the lively mood of numerous vacationers who have already enjoyed summer days there. While watching those vacationers on the screen, I could not help but reminded of how I spent summer vacations along with my family members during my childhood years, and that surely made me a bit nostalgic for a while.
In the meantime, due to an unfortunate incident which seriously damages his car, Edouard has no choice but to spend next several days along with Félix and Chérif. While Félix sleeps alone in his tent, Chérif and Edouard have to sleep together in Chérif’s tent, and we get another laugh as these two very awkward bedfellows try to be nice to each other before trying to sleep.
In case of Félix, he is looking forward to meeting Alma again, but the situation does not look that promising to say the least. When he calls Alma, she is understandably surprised and embarrassed, but she agrees to meet him outside at a local cafe. As they talk a bit with each other, it gradually becomes more apparent to us that she is not that attracted to Félix, but then she lets herself spend more time with him, and, quite oblivious to her conflicted feelings, Félix is still willing to do anything for winning her heart.
What follows next is a series of funny moments to amuse and tickle us. When Alma seems to be interested in getting to know a dashing summer camp worker after he handles her accidental injury, Félix cannot help but become jealous, and Alma becomes more distant to him as he tries to draw more of her attention. At one point, he shouts at her right in front of her house, and that consequently leads to an embarrassing circumstance among not only them but also others who happen to be around them.
The movie also pays some attention to what Chérif and Edouard respectively go through. While Edouard slowly starts to be more active and independent from his mother, Chérif comes to befriend a young married woman who happens to be only with her baby daughter, and he soon finds himself frequently functioning as her free babysitter. As he turns out to be pretty good at handling her little daughter, Héléna (Ana Blagojevic) appreciates this a lot, and they soon come to get know each other more as spending more time together than expected.
The story eventually becomes more serious as its main characters come to face reality, but it is not weighed down by this at all as keeping its plot rolling as before. The main characters are rather broad at first, but we come to like and care about them more as they come to show more depth and personality, and that is the main reason why the modest finale works with some heartfelt moments to be cherished.
Besides, the main cast members of the film are engaging in their solid comic acting. While Eric Nantchouang , Salif Cissé, and Édouard Sulpice are effective as the mismatched trio of the story, Asma Messaoudene and Ana Blagojevic are also fine in their substantial roles, and I especially enjoy several tentatively intimate scenes between Cissé and Blagojevic, whose gravitas function well as the counterpoint to the comic interactions between Nantchouang and Messaoudene.
Overall, “All Hands on Deck” is a pleasant summer movie packed with enough wit and heart, and director/co-writer Guillaume Brac did a competent job of balancing his story and characters well between comedy and drama. To be frank with you, I did not expect much at first because I thought this was just another silly French comedy film, but the movie amused and entertained me more than expected, and I certainly recommend it if you want a sort of movie vacation.