‘The Valet’ review: Eugenio Derbez charms in French farce remake but attempts to take on deep topics get stuck in first gear [Grade: B-]
There is a lot of discourse around foreign language films being remade for English-speaking audiences. While sometimes it feels completely unnecessary, there are times when it’s a chance to improve the material or put a new spin on it. Richard Wong’s remake of The Valet transports Francis Veber’s 2006 version from Paris to Los Angeles. The script, by Rob Greenberg and Bob Fisher, delves into American celebrity culture and the treatment of Mexican immigrants in the United States.
Antonio (Eugenio Derbez) is first seen driving a sports car through LA, before the reveal that he is the valet rather than the owner of the car. Though he and his wife are separated, he is a devoted father to his son. He lives with his mother, who he is close with, but is shocked to find out that she is dating their Korean landlord, Mr. Kim. When his wife tells him that she has started seeing someone else, he’s devastated even though there are glimmers of a potential romance for him with a local bike repair shop owner.
Derbez was last seen in the remake of another French film, CODA, which won the Oscar for Best Picture earlier this year. His endearing cluelessness and charm go a long way in selling this film, as he’s a delight to watch. He manages to portray Antonio’s lack of knowledge about the world of the Hollywood elite without it becoming too cringey or feeling like it’s dumbing down his character.
Meanwhile, Olivia (Samara Weaving) is a sought-after actress opening her own company to prioritize female storytelling. But while her career is going well, her personal life is decidedly not. She is estranged from her family and has few friends; her only socialization is with her assistant and the married billionaire (Max Greenfield) with whom she’s having an affair. Though Vincent assures Olivia that he’s going to leave his wife Kathryn (Betsy Brandt) soon, it seems unlikely.
No one can portray a slimy player better than Greenfield, as evidenced in his roles in Promising Young Woman and as Schmidt on New Girl. Weaving does an excellent job of bringing to life the seemingly vapid actress and the lonely and anxious woman underneath. Olivia eats little, but consumes lots of anxiety pills; the film subtly points out the insane pressures on women in the entertainment industry. I only wish that the writers gave us more backstory on Olivia and her motivations for becoming an actress because her character never feels entirely fleshed out.
Antonio and Olivia’s worlds collide when he runs into the car that she’s getting into with his bike. Vincent is storming after her after she’s suggested they end their relationship and all three are caught together in the paparazzi photos. Vincent decides that Olivia and Antonio fake dating is a perfect way to get the rumors to go away and Olivia is so committed to ensuring her upcoming Amelia Earhart film succeeds that she agrees. They offer Antonio money, and it’s enough to pay for his ex-wife to continue going to school, so he accepts.
Much of the film is centered on how Antonio and Olivia become friends and change for the better because of each other. Antonio learns to be more confident in himself, while Olivia learns to be kinder and make connections with those around her. Olivia bonding with Antonio’s large extended family is the highlight of the entire film. There are a lot of plot twists in the second half of the film – maybe even too many of them – but I admire that they managed to defy some of the usual tropes of rom-coms.
The most unique thing about The Valet is how much of it focuses on Antonio’s experience as a Mexican immigrant. Much of the dialogue of the film is in Spanish (with subtitles) and it tackles topics like gentrification and the way that he and his friends and family are treated by white Americans. It’s much more than I expected from a light film like this one and might be related to Derbez being a producer.
Unfortunately, the film tries to take on too much and not every plot line feels totally resolved by the end. Its messaging around the idea that not all rich white people suck also feels a little clumsy. (Yes, that is a real “lesson” that’s learned in this film.)
Though it never quite reaches its full potential, The Valet is an enjoyable tale of friendship under the most strange of circumstances, second chances at love, and learning to stand up for what you want. While it’s not particularly showy in its filmmaking, its rather unexpected commentary on immigrant culture makes it stand out from the rest of the straight-to-streaming rom-coms released every year. Plus it’s worth seeing just to be charmed by Derbez and Greenfield.
The Valet will stream exclusively on Hulu beginning May 20.
Photo: Dan McFadden/Hulu