Slap Me, I Like It Too Much

How many of you would guess that Slap Her, She's French is a comedy? The title is pretty blatant, and the movie itself is largely the same. But that's exactly what the good ones have to do. They suck you in, make you expect a certain formula, and then they sneak in subtlety and deeper meaning when you aren't looking.

Slap Her tells the story of a Texas rich girl cheerleader Starla Grady, whose dream is to be an anchorwoman and "share a couch with Katie Couric". She's doing the right things, and her family and social status at school have placed her in a great position to get what she wants.

The main thrust of the story deals with a French foreign exchange student by the name of Genevieve LePlouff, who Starla decides to host in order to pad her resume.

Starla doesn't really need the padding that badly and is not the sort of person to take up her time with "charity cases". Yet, her decision is made at the first act break, rashly, but entirely in character to get what she wants in that particular moment. The design of the moment is flawless, and is our first hint that there is some real thought put into the film.

Genevieve arrives and instantly fits into the slightly awkward but earnest youngster mold. She and Starla are completely different beings. Starla herself finds displeasure in any attention that Genevieve gets, which obviously distracts from her own position atop her school's social structure. Minor slights escalate to real conflict between the two.

It's a darn funny movie. We have one of the best "bitch slap" scenes I can recall (or, in other words, a catfight). The beauty is that all of it, absolutely all of it, comes from character.

The plot has several twists and turns. Each is fully justified and yet a pleasant surprise. Slap Her could even be considered a less congenial Clueless, but its plot elements are actually stronger.

Starla is played by the relatively unknown Jane McGregor, who is described as the next Reese Witherspoon. I can see the comparison, though this isn't quite her performance of in Freeway, the first film I saw Witherspoon in (this one bears more of a resemblance to Legally Blonde). McGregor is a little excitable slip of a Canadian girl in person, who wears those slightly dorky horn-rimmed glasses that are in fact quite the rage these days. The transition to Dallas cheerleader is complete and there is a lot of potential here. Whether she can achieve the success of Witherspoon is another question, one that relates more to shrewd and lucky choices in her career.

Starla's nemesis Genevieve is inhabited by Piper Perabo who takes an the arguably more difficult accent in the film. Perabo shows off quite a range of abilities here, from that accent to several physical transformations in what may be the more difficult role.

Just a bit of trivia about the film: There's a jailhouse shower scene featuring a number of larger, older women. These extras were found at a nudist colony not far outside Dallas and apparently were quite excited to take part in the film.

The higher ratings usually go to more serious films than this one. Yet here I am pulled in completely, by the characters, the playing with expected forms, and the sheer chutzpah of some of the humor. This film is the most worthy new comedy I've seen in some time. It's worth going out of your way to see.

As I write this, the film's release has been delayed a third time - it's not the usual case of perceived issues with the film, but this film is in fact, the first to be released from this distribution company (Premiere Marketing and Distribution Group), and their financing has finally fallen into place. With any luck, the current November (2002) release date will see the film opening in a theater near you.

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