In recent years, British film- and documentary-makers have made it something of a habit to visit the United States and make fun of the many weird and wonderful characters to be found on those shores. Louis Theroux, and before him the Britain-based American Ruby Wax, tended to charm their way into the lives of various oddballs, while Sacha Baron-Cohen’s fictional alter-ego Borat persuaded people to reveal more about themselves than they realized and ridiculed them in an often cruel way.
Now Antoine de Maximy has applied a particularly French touch to this approach in J’Irai Dormir à Hollywood (I am going to sleep in Hollywood), traveling from New York to Los Angeles, mostly in a decrepit hearse he has bought and painted bright red. Like Theroux, he pokes gentle fun at people whom he has persuaded to allow him to stay to dinner in their home or even spend the night, but most of the time his endeavors seem more genuine than those of his British counterparts, because – unlike Theroux, Wax and Baron-Cohen, who are followed by camera crews – de Maximy is his own camera crew.
Armed with two cameras, one of which is almost permanently attached to him and follows his reactions, de Maximy takes an engaging, amusing and often moving journey through America. The individuals he comes across are fascinating in their diversity, and Maximy is never unkind to them. He stays overnight with two exercise freaks (one of whom is 95) in New York City, sits on a Greyhound bus next to a man who is on his way to serve 15 years in jail for what seems to be a minor arms offence, hops on a bicycle to chase the horse-drawn buggy of an Amish family, visits areas he has been warned to stay away from in New Orleans, spends time with Native Americans on a reservation and ends up trying to get into the fortress homes of various Hollywood stars.
Perhaps most affecting of all is the time he spends with a man who, having lost all his money, lives on a beach near Los Angeles and never once bemoans his fate or blames anyone else for his plight.
As is clear from the examples of people de Maximy meets, he avoid most clichés of American life and chooses instead to talk with interesting, if quirky, individuals. Skilful editing and a well-chosen soundtrack give the movie pace and energy.
Apart from the occasional comment to the camera in French, most of the dialogue in the film is in English, so it can be enjoyed even by those who do not have a working knowledge of French.Favorite