Written, directed, edited, produced, cast by and starring Arthur Diennet (uh-oh)
Costarring Marcel Diennet, Bill Watterson and Megan Hensley
Running time: 1 hour and 34 minutes
by Zoe Crombie
American movies consistently seem to have a preoccupation with dreams. Not the surreal Luis Bunuel kind, but the far-off goal sort, the variety that can keep a protagonist going through thick and thin until they achieve it. While a powerful storytelling tool when used well, simply telling the viewer about the existence of a dream isn’t enough to inspire or engage them. This is a trap that writer and director Arthur Diennet falls into with his project American Bistro, a flaccid, unfunny film that attempts to be about something while ultimately meaning very little.
The central leads of American Bistro begin at rock bottom: Edmund (played by the director) is a depressed mess, while Edmund’s uncle Medor (played by Diennet’s father Marcel) has recently been fired by a boss who has been having an affair with his wife. After a drunken night of wallowing together in their pain, Medor reveals his dream of opening a bistro – one that was trampled down by his life as an accountant. Using Edmund’s tuition money for university, the two embark on this dream together, attempting to beat out a shrewd entrepreneur who owns far more restaurants in the area. This premise, in the right hands, could have been charming, uplifting, and warm. Instead, it feels forced.
Writing, directing, and starring in a film envisioned entirely by you is undeniably a bold move, and I commend Diennet for his bravery and determination on this front. However, while I respect the effort involved, I struggle to see his talent shine through in these areas. While the film looks competent enough, with some dynamic shots and sets, the writing is another story. Very few of the jokes landed for me, and the dialogue rarely felt as though it could come from a human being. Worst of all, though, is Diennet’s performance; while Marcel can get along on his charm, Arthur comes off as whiney more often than not, even when it doesn’t fit the tone of the scene.
In a comedy centred around the wacky antics of the characters, it helps when said characters have a level of depth and intrigue that allows us to develop an interest in them. Unfortunately, Diennet frequently falls back on lazy, sometimes dubious, stereotypes in order to create humour. The crazy ‘cuckolded’ man, the flamboyantly gay art critic, the hot girl who doesn’t know it; all of these dead horses are beaten, and none offer any kind of fresh, clever take on the joke. The lowbrow nature of the humour also causes some tonal whiplash when Diennet attempts to tackle delicate issues like mental illness and domestic abuse, which were clumsily included alongside set pieces like penis paintings without much thought.
The best scenes, by far, in American Bistro were the ones in which Medor is actually shown acting on his dream. On the rare occasions that he is cooking, the scene is shot like a dance, the choreography dictated by whatever Marcel Diennet is making, resulting in a beautiful and simple moment to demonstrate Medor’s passion, reminiscent of films like Ratatouille and Julie and Julia. But beyond these moments, this movie falls flat in both its comedic moments and its vague moral messaging. His dream comes to life when we are shown, but lies dormant when we are told.