The Valet (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): So he becomes her fake lover…

“The Valet” does not feel that fresh to say the least, but it turns out to be more likable than expected. While this is the American remake version of the 2006 French film of the same name directed by Francis Veber, it is also instantly reminiscent of countless other comedy films ranging from “Notting Hill” (1999) to “Marry Me” (2022), but it did a fairly good job of entertaining us during its 2-hour running time, and I also appreciate several moments which are genuinely sweet and poignant to my little surprise.

Like “Notting Hill” and “Marry Me”, the movie mainly revolves around the unlikely relationship between two very different persons. While Antonio Flores (Eugenio Derbez) is a plain Mexican American dude who has been one of the countless parking valets working in LA, Olivia Allan (Samara Weaving) is a big Hollywood star actress in contrast, but they happen to come across each other by coincidence when she and her married billionaire lover happen to be spotted by a couple of paparazzi during one evening. Because both she and her lover must avoid a public scandal for their respective reasons, Antonio is subsequently requested to disguise himself as Olivia’s lover for a while, and he accepts the request mainly because he will be rewarded with enough money for getting his separated wife back.

As Antonio and Olivia hang around with each other in public for those hungry paparazzi, the movie generates a series of expected comic moments from how awkward Antonio looks and feels as suddenly thrown into spotlight along with his ‘girlfriend’. As everyone wonders what exactly she sees from him, he tries his best with some assistance from her, but he still looks pretty awkward, and, to make matters worse, there are already a couple of private investigators watching on him and Olivia.

Steadily maintaining the comic tension around its two main characters, the screenplay by Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg thankfully does not push them into conventional romantic relationship. As spending more time with each other along the story, Antonio and Olivia come to open themselves more to each other, and they soon find themselves confiding a lot to each other on their respective matters of heart. While Olivia remains conflicted about what she should do with her apparently untrustworthy lover, Antonio desperately wants to reunite with his separated wife, but it is apparent to us from the very beginning that his wife does not have much compunction on exploiting his remaining feelings toward her. Just because she feels jealous after seeing him being with Olivia, she tries to attract his attention, and Antonio cannot help but drawn to the possibility of their reunion, while being pretty oblivious to what is being developed between him and a certain nice lady in his neighborhood.

Besides this main narrative, the movie also juggles several subplots, and the best part comes from Antonio’s aging mother Cecilia (Carmen Salinas), who, to his little embarrassment, recently happens to find the second romance in her life. When her son comes to learn of that, Cecilia does not feel any shame about that at all, and that subsequently leads to an amusingly sweet scene where Olivia is greeted by not only Cecilia’s family members and neighbors but also her lover’s family members not long after she happens to stay at Antonio’s home after one eventful night.

During the last act, we certainly get a big moment of conflict between our two main characters, but the movie keeps things rolling even when the mood becomes a bit more serious than before. Although the finale is delivered in a way too neat and convenient in my humble opinion, it has some elements of surprise at least, and I will not deny that I got some good laughs from that.

The movie depends a lot on the comic chemistry between its two lead performers, who complement each other well in addition to being believable in their respective characters’ growth and development along the story. While less flamboyant compared to his recent supporting turn in Oscar-winning film “CODA” (2021), Eugenio Derbez is funny and engaging in his earnest performance, and Samara Weaving, who has already shown her considerable comic talent in “Ready or Not” (2019), is often touching as her character gradually earns our sympathy. Never softening her character at all, Weaving effectively conveys to us how Olivia comes to find her better self along the story, and she is particularly good when Olivia comes to find some real comfort from those Mexican dished made by Cecilia.

In case of a number of supporting performers in the film, their colorful performances spice it up to say the least. While Max Greenfield is as obnoxious as required, Diany Rodriguez, Noemi Gonzalez, Marisol Nichols, and Betsy Brandt bring some personality to their rather thankless roles, and Ravi Patel and John Pirruccello are always fun to watch as two different private investigators who get much closer to each other than expected. Carmen Salinas is inarguably the ace in the hole, and, considering that she passed away several months ago, her work here in the film feels all the more moving.

Overall, “The Valet”, which is directed by Richard Wong, is an enjoyable product which does its job as well as intended. Because I have not seen the original French version, I cannot tell you whether it is an improvement over the original French version, but I can tell you instead that it is better than I thought when I watched its trailer some time ago, and I am willing to check out the original French version someday.

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