Johnny Be Real

April 18, 2006By Heidi EllisonFilm

One of those inexplicable things about France is the near-universal adoration of Johnny Hallyday, a rock singer who made his name in the 1960s by singing French versions of American hits and dressing like a tough-guy rocker. Even today, at the age of 62, the craggy-faced Johnny still affects the Hell’s Angel heavy-leather look.

Unlike his hero, Elvis, Johnny (like the King, he is commonly referred to by his first name only) didn’t have to die to achieve cult status. Being France’s answer to Elvis was enough – after all, as the main character in the film Jean-Philippe says, Johnny is “le rockeur de tous les français.”

We have to hand it to Johnny, however, for actually co-starring in Jean-Philippe, a film that gently mocks French Johnny-mania. And we have to hand it to director Laurent Tuel for making a comedy that is actually funny without being embarrassingly crass – a rarity on French screens.

The story line: After receiving a blow to the head, an ordinary guy named Fabrice (played by Fabrice Luchini) wakes up in a parallel universe where no one has ever heard of Johnny Hallyday. Fabrice, however, still has total recall of every detail of the star’s personal life and career, as one of Johnny’s biggest fans should.

When he realizes what is going on, Fabrice rushes to the room where he kept his sacred collection of Johnny memorabilia – “the biggest in the department” – and finds it replaced by a collection of beer cans. His daughter, whom he had named Laura after a favorite Johnny song, written for the star’s own daughter, is now called Marion. Everyone thinks Fabrice has gone nuts when he talks about Johnny.

All seems lost for Fabrice, since his passion for Johnny had been the only spark of joy in a drab life, until he remembers that Johnny’s real name is Jean-Philippe Smet. A search leads him to his hero, who in this new universe is a hangdog bowling-alley owner with a bad mullet haircut – he had never made it to the TV appearance that made Johnny famous because of a motor scooter accident.

You can guess the rest: Fabrice’s new mission in life is to make Johnny the star he should be, and the lives of both characters are turned around in the process.

Luchini and Hallyday are both in good form in the film, and the result is a well-made feel-good movie with quite a few laughs thrown in for good measure.


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