Monday, May 20, 2024

“THE SECOND ACT”

THE STORY – Florence wants to introduce David, the man she is madly in love with, to her father Guillaume. But David is not attracted to Florence and wants to get rid of her by throwing her into the arms of his friend Willy. The four characters meet in a restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

THE CAST – Léa Seydoux, Vincent Lindon, Louis Garrel, Raphaël Quenard & Manuel Guillot

THE TEAM – Quentin Dupieux (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 80 Minutes


The state of cinema is in an interesting place. For every piece that articulates its demise through lack of public interest or technological takeovers, another perspective praises its ingenuity and perseverance by providing captivating storytelling. For decades, the industry has been in a precarious place, and in that time, it has continually been fertile ground for rich thematic exploration. The nature of this landscape is constantly evolving, which makes “The Second Act” have so much potential to create a fascinating showcase. There’s a vibrant tapestry to unravel, a mixture of old and new conflicts that can illuminate resonant messages on the nature of artistry.  Much of that is mixed within this film’s framework, but the results are a painfully tepid exploration of muddled commentary.

As the story begins, we are introduced to Stephane (Manuel Guillot), a waiter, coming to open a small diner named The Second Act. However, even as he fumbles his way through this procedure, the viewpoint quickly shifts to David (Louis Garrel) and Willy (Raphaël Quenard), two friends engaged in a long conversation on the side of the road. Then there is another turnover that introduces David’s girlfriend Florence (Léa Seydoux) and her father Guillaume (Vincent Lindon). What is soon revealed in these discussions is their complete artifice. Almost immediately, Willy makes an insensitive comment that calls the pair to recognize the act of filming taking place and warns about offending the audience. Guillaume and Florence bicker about their own importance in this story and lament the script’s strength. Stephane is flooded with nerves at the diner when he acknowledges his first time playing an extra. The meta-level conversations drive the plot, continually peeling back layers of observations.

Quentin Dupieux has always had a fascination with the strange and offbeat. His sensibilities have trended toward oddball people living in unusual circumstances as a means to bring out a more profound truth within themselves. One can certainly see that the premise here indulges in the strange and unusual, but to what end is incredibly frustrating. The thesis here surrounds an assortment of topics: a critical lens of cancel culture, a takedown of self-serious individuals, artificial intelligence taking over the creative process, and even the value of creativity in the first place. All, no doubt, intriguing jumping-off points, but Dupieux feels so uncommitted to any of them. Once that fourth wall is broken, the expectation is established that none of this is real and frankly means that none of it matters. It’s incredibly difficult to find any emotional connection from that point since every character and interaction is treated with such a disposable nature. This would be tolerable if the film had any real grasp on its ultimate messaging, but the subjects being introduced are formless. It may very well be that it is intentionally all sound and has no fury, but that makes for a tedious and frustrating experience.

The actions of the filmmaker also leave his talented cast out to dry, though all manage to find humanity and nuance in these personalities that are relatively thin on the page. Best in show belongs to Lindon, who captures both a boorish egotist and a more soft-hearted nurturer in a compelling manner. The sight of him being able to lament the frivolous nature of modern movies while also quickly abandoning this ethos once professional success comes his way is a reminder of the range effectively showcased in something like “Titane,” though nowhere near as impactful. His main scene partner, Leydoux, is also able to effortlessly embody this persona, though her strife is not at all defined and leaves the characterization a hazy mess. Credit to the actress for her natural ability to maintain an alluring screen presence, but it is of no help from the material.

Garrel and Quenard are significantly less impressive, though there is a particular charm the latter taps into that is occasionally engrossing. Like Lindon, his character also goes through a dramatic change in tone, and it’s impressive to see him navigate those waters. At first, the role is particularly loathsome, and Quenard does decent work, making him an intriguing individual to explore. At best, Garrel is mostly a non-entity, struggling to elevate any of his contributions. Having the only unique element from a plot perspective also gives Guillot an advantage, and he has his own memorable moments. Unfortunately, all of the actors swim upstream due to the lack of direction within the narrative.

There was such potential for “The Second Act” to be a really enthralling study. The cinematic environment is not lacking any of these perspectives, and it’s incredibly disappointing how much Dupieux wastes every opportunity for a genuinely moving discussion. Instead, he treats every argument with a dismissive attitude. Nothing ever amounts to anything in the actual text, therefore making any emotional connection to such thematic weight wholly voided. The cast tries hard on their own but flounders enough not to make this a redeemable effort. The film lethargically sits on the screen, daring you to engage with its themes and care about its talking points. However, it’s just constant noise that very quickly turns into a grating exercise.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The actors do their best to elevate the material, and they have moments of genuine amusement. Some of the humor can land a chuckle.

THE BAD - The thematic weight is incredibly light. The messaging is that nothing really matters and therefore the audience struggles to care about anything of significance. The exercise lacks anything of interest to discuss and becomes lethargic and tedious.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 3/10

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Josh Parham
Josh Parhamhttps://nextbestpicture.com
I love movies so much I evidently hate them. Wants to run a production company.

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>The actors do their best to elevate the material, and they have moments of genuine amusement. Some of the humor can land a chuckle.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The thematic weight is incredibly light. The messaging is that nothing really matters and therefore the audience struggles to care about anything of significance. The exercise lacks anything of interest to discuss and becomes lethargic and tedious.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>3/10<br><br>"THE SECOND ACT"