This French comedy drama progresses along predictable, sentimental and somewhat implausible lines for the most part, improves with a sudden bolt of realism, but then goes hideously slushy in the final stretch with a contrived, manipulative denouement. Apparently it is based on real events that happened in Sweden in the mid-1980s, but the final product still stinks of script doctoring fashioned in order to shape the story into the sort of sanded-down pap that appeals to fans of obvious social-comment cinema.
Protagonist and de facto white saviour Étienne Carboni (Kad Merad) is a curmudgeonly actor, usually of the comic variety, who takes a job teaching drama to male inmates in a high-security prison. Of course, at first the motley crew of prisoners who show up for class just want to goof off or learn about stand-up comedy. However, Étienne sees promise in them and decides to put on a performance of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Tough-but-fair warden Ariane (Marina Hands) thinks that’s a big ask and that they’ll never learn the lines, but of course they do and the show goes on. As the English language title cheerily announces in advance, it’s a hit! But that takes us only halfway through the running time, so things get a bit more interesting as the prisoners and Étienne take the show on the road to various regional theatres.
Writer-director Emmanuel Courcol, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a freer touch with the Étienne character but his fictional prisoners are all locked up in stereotype cells. Nevertheless, the cast is actually good enough to break out of those confines and bring shading to their roles and they’re quite plausible as amateurs doing a good, but crucially not that good, job of performing Godot. Wabinlé Nabié (from Courcol’s earlier film Ceasefire) and Sofian Khammes shine particularly as the two convicts playing the lead roles in the play within the film, as does hunky Pierre Lottin as Jordan who is cast in the challenging role of Lucky. The late Beckett may have been amused by the real-life events that inspired this work, but it’s debatable as to how thrilled he would have been with this filmed interpretation.
• The Big Hit is released on 24 June in cinemas.