French cinema and theater recently lost a great comic actor in Jacques Villeret. Not only was Villeret Truffault's favorite actor, but his 30-year career produced some 70 films. One of the funniest of these is Le Diner de Cons, The Dinner Game, with co-star Thierry Lhermitte. Francis Veber, who wrote the original play has adapted this very funny movie for the silver screen and also directed.
Not everyone is a fan of French comedy. Either the movie is just French slapstick farce with many funny faces doing lots of mugging for the camera thrown in, and this explains the admiration the French have for Jerry Lewis, or the verbosity of the script kills any funny moments there might have been. Le Diner de Cons, The Dinner Game, is, however, a great French comedy with perfect writing, brilliant acting, and plot twists that no American film could ever live up to. Non-Francophiles can still enjoy this classic movie as the subtitles manage to convey most of the funny lines and, in the end, the comedy lies mostly in the situations and characters than in the dialogue.
Jacques Villeret plays Francois Pignon, a very ordinary guy who builds matchstick replicas of famous mechanical engineering feats such as the Eiffel Tower, the Concorde, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte), a French editor, learns of the existence of Francois Pignon and invites him to a "diner de cons", a dinner where five friends invite the nerdiest idiot they can find (in the tradition of the fraternity ugly girl contest). The diner itself does not take place. Most of the action, and here you can see the stage roots of this comedy, takes place in Brochant's apartment over the course of the evening as Pignon tries to comfort an ailing Brochant, causes an amazing amount of misunderstandings, imbroglios, and confusion before the end of this very funny comedy.
In the end, one wonders who the greatest idiot is, Pignon or Brochant. The ending of this movie is particularly clever. Just when you think it's over, one last gesture by the Jacques Villeret character kicks in a whole new punch line. Those allergic to French comedies because they are only familiar with American studio remakes like the dreadful Man With One Red Shoe (Tom Hanks), The Toy (Richard Pryor) and the as disastrous The Birdcage (Robin Williams), would do well to see the originals and this great French movie with great comic actors.