In cinema, drug and alcohol addiction is often treated like the darkest iteration of Chekhov’s gun: if someone says they’re in recovery in the first act, expect them to relapse in the second. Because of this narrative cliche, very few films directly grapple with the realities of rehabilitation, and that rather than being an end to all problems, it creates new ones as a life has to be built back from a place of destruction. In its best moments, The Heroics, the directorial debut of Maxime Roy (receiving its world premiere out of competition at Cannes) mines perfectly observed comedy from this quandary, following a middle aged character who has regressed back to a state of arrested development during his first sustained period of sobriety at the age of 54.

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François Creton, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Roy, stars as Michel, who has been sober for ten months at the point of introduction. But this isn’t to suggest he’s managed to get his life back on track; he’s just had a baby with his ex, which he’s struggling to take care of. And on top of this, he’s still unemployed, and hasn’t held down a job for nearly 40 years, when he worked as an untrained mechanic in a friend’s garage. Facing up to these adult responsibilities proves tough for someone still young at heart, who has experienced a lifetime of hedonism – still wearing his old Dead Kennedys T shirts and hanging out with his teenage son’s friends in an attempt to recapture his glory days. He’s determined to stay clean, but the desire to escape from having to face up to these challenges often proves too much to bear.

As the film progresses, the incessant need to tease a dramatic relapse and downfall only works to the detriment of a much more insightful character study, which spends its time carefully examining the long term challenges of adapting to sobriety in later life. It does this with an admirable lightness of touch; an early sequence where Michel and his son debate the merits of his resume before a job centre interview is the most amusing example of this approach. With no experience listed on his hand-written CV later than the 1980’s, it both shows the challenges of reformation and highlights how stuck in an eternal youth, dreaming of a life fixing motorbikes, the protagonist is.

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Creton’s leading performance is one of The Heroics’ strongest assets. He understands the inherent ridiculousness of the character, and easily mines his suspended adolescence for laughs, but also the frustrating traits between his affable persona. The later stages of the drama, in which he is thrown into violent confrontation with drug dealers and squanders his own parental capabilities, are an impossible tightrope walk for any performer – and while the film lapses into uninteresting addiction drama cliches at this stage, this central character study remains intriguing for just how much it attempts to complicate Michel’s standing as a figure of empathy. It’s an unflattering role, both physically (with Roy’s camera lingering on an aged body ravaged by substance abuse every time he goes in for a check up), and in terms of characterisation. This makes it all the more impressive a showcase for a character actor likely unfamiliar to audiences outside of France, with minor roles in Netflix series Lupin and crime drama Spiral the only ones to have transcended borders.

Image © Courtesy of PR Factory 

The Heroics is an adaptation of Maxime Roy’s 2018 short of the same name, which was also co-written by Creton. Whereas that film was centred on the idea of Michel’s arrested development, his party animal spirit getting in the way of his responsibilities, this feature length sister film becomes a more substantial exploration of addiction and recovery. It’s why the regression into stereotypes of the genre as it becomes a gritty melodrama is such a disappointment; for the most part, this feels more insightful than the average rehabilitation story, with significantly less quirk than you’d expect from a story about an ageing rocker facing up to real world challenges. It’s not a heroic effort, but it’s admirable in spite of its flaws.

Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Written by Alistair Ryder

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.

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