Film Review: ‘The Speech’ Is an Eccentric Comedy With an Enticing Premise
Stuck at a family meal that makes him want to murder, Adrien waits. He waits for a text message from his girlfriend to put an end to the ‘break’ she has been giving him for a month. And now Ludo, his future brother-in-law, asks him to make a ‘little’ speech for the wedding. Adrien panics, but what if this speech was ultimately the best thing that could happen to him? Adapted from a novel by Fabrice Caro.
Director: Laurent Tirard
Cast: Benjamin Lavernhe from La Comédie Française, Sara Giraudeau, Kyan Khojandi, Julia Piaton
Runtime: 87 minutes
Based on Fabrice Caro’s novel of the same name, The Speech follows Adrien’s (Benjamin Lavernhe) struggles in understanding what his long-term girlfriend Sonia (Sara Giraudeau) meant when she declared that the both of them needed a break. Things get even more troubling for the 35-year-old when his soon-to-be brother-in-law Ludo (Kyan Khojandi) asks him to give a speech at the wedding, causing him to spiral.
The whole film takes place over the course of this dinner, but the film does not limit itself to that setting. Instead, The Speech often breaks the fourth wall with Adrien voicing his innermost thoughts to the audience throughout the night. What could have possibly been a mundane film is livened up by Adrien’s direct address to the audience and his quippy remarks, transforming The Speech into a fun and witty watch.
Adrien is able to narrate his life using the medium of a novel. Narration often does not translate well on film, either stating the obvious or creating a degree of separation to the events. The Speech avoids this by having Adrien’s narrations directed to an audience. This style is similar to the comedy-drama A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017), possessing the same type of deadpan humour.
However, instead of having a narrator that is not directly involved in the events, The Speech has Adrien himself, speaking to us. Throughout the dinner, he stays the silent observer to his family’s conversation, opting instead to speak to the audience by offering commentary. This also makes sense in the context of the film as Adrien is shown to live more in his head than in reality.
The film’s strength lies in its relatability. From his tendency to live in his own world to his inability to articulate his emotions and speak up, Adrien is marvellously flawed. He seems like a vacant everyman despite having a vast and rich imagination inwardly. Outwardly, he is a strange, neurotic and deeply awkward man, the kind who needs to make lists of topics to keep a conversation going. While he does well-intentioned deeds, he often seems to mess things up by his pure inability to speak up for himself.
As the dinner rolls on, Adrien imagines multiple iterations of the speech he would give, imagining himself thriving and failing as he does so. So antagonistic to the idea of the speech, he even wonders if he should break the couple up, showing his true flawed and selfish nature. He flickers between caring about the speech and being wholly consumed with his failing relationship. He contemplates texting Sonia but is downright cringey at how desperate he is. While not one to speak up at the dinner table, he often snaps backs with one-liners and insults to the family.
While that may make it seem as if he is the villain, his whole family are just as self-absorbed and messy. The film dissects modern family roles as each person in the family has their set responses, this captures the banal mundaneness of life and routine. It is heavily contrasted with Adrien’s inner world with his imaginations of fantastical scenarios.
The camerawork and composition of the film are as dynamic as Adrien’s monologues, breathing life into his imagination. It has an almost surrealist quality as the camera pans from mundane settings to Adrien’s imaginations seamlessly. The framing and colour grading also make the dour settings more exciting and dynamic, giving it a quality of surrealness.
The film also has the subtle and ultimately encouraging message that it’s never too late for change. Through the course of the film, we also see Adrien grow as he comes to terms with his flaws and learns to live outwardly rather than inwardly. The film was a fun and witty experience, with great heartfelt moments and hilarious quips.
The Speech will be screening as part of the French Film Festival. For screening dates, visit here.
About the French Film Festival 2020
The French Film Festival, presented as part of the vOilah! France Singapore Festival, returns from 6 to 22 November 2020, with its biggest line-up of 37 feature films in a wide variety of celebrated classics and yet-to-be-released films. These will all be presented both offline and online. For more information on the festival, visit its official website here.
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