Times Have Been Better
Le Ciel sur la tete


Regis Musset

Nicolas Mercier

Arnaud Binard, Charlotte de Turckheim, Bernard Le Coq, Olivier Gueritee, Pierre Deny, Franck de la Personne, Chantal Ladesou

Unrated, 93 minutes

Life Goes On
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, September, 2008


Coming out stories can be a dime a dozen and I once wrote, perhaps unfairly, that I never wanted to see another one again. But, like any genre, the coming out tale can be a cliche-fest or the writer can rise to the occasion and give it a new spin. It is possible to ignore the standard formulas and devise situations that are honest, convincing and real. It helps when it's done without resorting to slapstick and melodrama. Laughter is the best medicine and, as anyone who has ever studied the plays of Moliere knows, the French write delightful comedies that are lightyears ahead of the average sitcom.

In Times Have Been Better, Jeremy (Arnaud Binard) is the ideal son. He is 33, handsome, and successful. He has two big announcements to share with his family; he's just received a major promotion at the bank where he works, and he has just moved in with his artist boyfriend, Marc (Pierre Deny). But he has a dilemma. His parents have no idea that their son is gay and the news is about to rock their world.

Before we become acquainted with Jeremy, we meet his family. Guy, the father (Bernard Le Coq) is first seen wearing a flowered apron while singing and dancing to rock music on the radio as he cooks breakfast. "Parents are funny," the younger son, Robin (Olivier Gueritee) remarks in voice-over, "They may be the only people you can admire and find tacky at the same time." Jeremy is coming in from Paris for an unexpected visit and Rosin, the mother, (Charlotte de Turckheim) is convinced that he is coming with bad news. Robin knows his brother's secret and is surprised when Jeremy tells him that he plans to come out today. "Our parents are liberal," Jeremy says, "they won't care."

The next scenes are small masterpieces of subtle comic timing and audience misdirection. Is he going to tell them or what? Each opportunity fails. When they play the grandchildren card, he finally blurts out the truth and the parents are speechless. Before they can react, Guy's two tennis buddies show up to meet the "wonder boy" son. When Guy tries to make awkward conversation and rather blandly announces Jeremy's work promotion, one of his friends remarks "You don't seem very accepting of it." Jeremy has to catch a train for Paris and life goes on... sort of.

Jeremy's parents discover that they are not as liberal as they once thought. Guy gets more and more annoyed as all his friends and co-workers congratulate him on Jeremy's promotion when all he can think of is his son's boyfriend. Every conversation brims with unintentional innuendo. A woman looks at Jeremy's picture and says "all the girls must be after him." All of this, along with the contrasting scenes where Guy and Rosin broach the subject to their friends, is very funny without being in the least bit rude. Guy seems to be taking the news worse than Rosin who, in turn, is beginning to find her husband's anger irritating. "How can anyone make love to a man?" he snarls with disgust. At this exact moment, she walks into the room, is taken aback by his comment, and then mutters under her breath, "Indeed, how?" Guy begins smoking again and takes his wife's sleeping pills. Sedated, he drifts off to sleep and asks "Do you think he gets buggered?"

In fact, Guy seems obsessed with the sexual dimension to their son's declaration of queerness. His tennis buddies, who haven't a clue what they are talking about, assure him that there's always a "queen" and a "man" when two guys do it and that Jeremy is obviously the man. Younger son Robin still lives with them and he feels that Mom and Dad are taking out their frustrations on him. When Robin shouts "I don't ask if you bugger Mom," his father slaps him. Robin will embark on a rebellion of his own when he decides to follow his dream by taking a job with a film crew rather than attend college and this just adds to the tension. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad drive to Paris to see Jeremy's swanky new apartment and also to meet his boyfriend, Marc. Guy initially drives the wrong way and Rosin has a quiet epiphany in the passenger seat as she realizes that she and her husband are moving in different directions and have grown worlds apart.
The emphasis here is more on the parents' journey to acceptance but this isn't one of those well-meaning, yet awful "problem of the week" American TV movies from the 1980s (so hated by Vito Russo in The Celluloid Closet) that always favored the family while marginalizing the gay protagonist into an almost non-entity. Guy and Rosin don't go totally mental over their son's news but they aren't dealing with it very well either. Their reactions are very realistic, adding to its comedy, which makes watching Times Have Been Better a complete delight. For example, when the parents meet Marc (who is an attractive man but clearly older than Jeremy), Rosin wants to both scream and crack up laughing. As they all sit down to dinner, Rosin angers her husband by joking about the way he dances in a flowered apron whenever he's in the kitchen. The insights are authentic and what could have been a conventional film is still very queer.
Nicolas Mercier's writing is sharp. Robin exposes his father's hypocrisy when he reminds him that he had "free love" when he came of age in the 60s and it was just an excuse to get laid. "You guys got it all wrong," he says, wise for his youth, "It took a disease for you to acknowledge gay guys." This is heavy stuff, mixed with dialogue that is reminiscent of Oscar Wilde for its wit. "Introducing your parents isn't a great aphrodisiac," Mark remarks when Jeremy isn't in the mood and pulls away from him. Rosin's gay boss, Yvan (Franck de la Personne), delivers many bitchy one-liners and tells her to stop being "St. Rosin, patron saint of gay men's Moms."
Among the film's many strengths are the finely drawn and fully rounded characters. These are not one-dimensional ciphers. The best comedies sometimes almost make you cry; I'm thinking here of that rare film like Charlie Chaplin's City Lights. Consider this moment: Tempers flare between the parents and Rosin walks out. Hanging out in a Paris gay bar with her boss, Rosin meets a suave gentleman (think a French Ricardo Montalban) who sweeps her off her feet. I won't give away what happens but, when he kisses her, Rosin remembers what it feels like to be a woman again and Charlotte de Turckheim's performance in this scene is one for the ages. This incident, along with the many other developments during the film, justifies Rosin's rebuke to Jeremy that "since you came home last weekend everything went wrong." While watching those afore-mentioned TV movies, we cringed when the mothers spouted similar stuff but my reaction was different here; probably because the poor woman is right.

Things are perhaps tied up a bit too neatly at the end but, in this case, it doesn't ring false. One leaves the film feeling that there might be some closure here but also that they still have a lot of unresolved issues to deal with. In any case, the journey there is what matters. Life goes on. This is a beautifully shot, acted and directed film. While it doesn't break any new ground, director Regis Musset isn't trying to be the next Godard either. Times Have Been Better is a solidly crafted, and entertaining story, and what else should one ask for? Check this one out, you'll be charmed.

Charlotte de Turckheim also appears in:
A Love To Hide