Paris 36 (review)
Le Muppet Show
Oh my goodness, I didn’t expect this: Paris 36 is The Muppet Show in, you know, Paris in 1936. I’m sure that wasn’t the intent of writer-director Christophe Barratier (The Chorus (Les Choristes); he was also a producer of Winged Migration), and I don’t necessarily mean it in a disparaging way, but… oh my goodness, that’s exactly what this charming mess of an overlong movie is.
Look, we have Pigoil (Gérard Jugnot), the Kermit-esque theaterhand who helps his fellow greasepaint-monkeys occupy the Chansonia music hall. There’s Milou (Clovis Cornillac: A Very Long Engagement), the Gonzo-like lighting guy — he’s a union agitator and fancies himself a communist, because that was like calling yourself a beat in the 1950s (it’s good for getting chicks as well as being a smack in the face to the establishment). There’s Jacky (Kad Merad), who is Fozzie, who believes his garish jackets are cool and can’t do an imitation worth a damn and is under the impression that audiences love him. There is Douce (Nora Arnezeder), the ingenue with the voice of an angel; Douce is Miss Piggy merely because she’s the only girl to speak of in the movie, though Piggy wishes she was this beautiful and this talented.
Look: they’re all trying to save the Chansonia from their fascist landlord Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), who would be played by either Waldorf or Statler, or else a human-among-Muppets like Michael Caine or maybe Paul Giamatti.
Okay, sure, it’s all a bit darker than the Muppets would ever get into: the flick opens with Pigoil being interrogated by the police (to be played by Sam Eagle?) for murder — murder! Pigoil is precisely as meek and sweet as Kermit, so there’s the suspense: Who did he murder, and why? He tells us the whole story of the occupation of the Chansonia in his interrogation, and it’s diverting enough — even if it gets dragged out for too long — that you’ll entirely forget that the whole thing is leading to murder (even though there’s a love triangle that also mirrors Moulin Rouge! that you can see cannot end well).
This isn’t a pretty tourist’s Paris — in fact, the French title, Faubourg 36, refers to the term for the city suburbs; this technically ain’t Paris at all — and it’s rife with Depression-era grimness. Not much, though: cuz it’s The Muppet Show: melodious, frothy, with exactly the same minor undertones of darkness.