Movie Review by Stephen Doyle
Starring: Dianne Wiest, Jane Birkin, Stanislas Merhar, Bulle Ogier, Karim Salah, Didier Flamand
Director: Andrew Litvack
This film is one of the most atrocious and painfully bad ‘comedies’ that I have had the misfortune to endure, a badly judged mixture of drama, farce and high camp. While never being short on pretension and over the top hysterics, MERCI DOCTEUR REY aka DR REY is lacking in subtlety and plot logic to a spectacular degree.
Having to recite the ridiculous and pointless plot pains me, but here goes: Thomas Beaumont (the wooden, expressionless Stanislas Merhar) is a good looking young Frenchman trying to come to terms with his homosexuality. A badly conducted quest for meaningful companionship ends up with Thomas hiding in a cupboard watching a middle-aged man (Simon Callow) being murdered by his boyfriend. Dazed and confused Thomas seeks out a psychiatrist – Dr Rey. He relates all of his problems to her, but it turns out he has actually not been talking to Dr Rey, but the neurotic Penelope (Jane Birkin), who thinks she is Vanessa Redgrave (don’t ask) and who has just accidentally murdered Dr Rey. Thomas and Penelope start an affair, of sorts. Meanwhile, wailing and shrieking and whining and overacting her way through the whole film is an indescribably over the top Diane Wiest, playing Thomas’ mother Elisabeth, an opera singer and an archetypical primma donna.
The film proceeds with Thomas Beaumont trying to find the murderer of the middle-aged man who he later discovers is his father. It all sounds silly and preposterous doesn’t it? And that is precisely what this film is. It continues illogically and witlessly with director Andrew Litvack failing to find a consistent tone between comedy and drama. Take for example an early scene in which Beaumont witnesses his father’s murder. It is hard to tell if we are meant to feel pity for Beaumont’s improbable ordeal, as suggested by his solemn expressions, or are we meant to laugh at the murder, as suggested by Simon Callow’s over the top presence, not to mention the dance he does just before being stabbed. The scene is handled so clumsily that it is neither dramatic, tense or comical. Not knowing whether I was meant to laugh or cry I did neither, and instead just continued to eye the exit door of the screening room with great longing.
Yet despite all this I have to admit to holding a certain sort of affection for DR REY, for at least it remains tongue-in-cheek and is ultimately relatively harmless (as it contains no gratuitous violence or sex scenes). The complete lack of taste and the overwhelming silliness of the piece even had me laughing more times than I should strictly admit to. DR REY, to give it its due, deserves a prominent place in that cannon of films which are so bad, they become good.
Yet I still find the film repellent. Ismail Merchant is the executive producer of this ghastly stylistic mess, and I predict the film’s promotion will emphasise that DR REY is a Merchant Ivory production, which is technically true. But whatever happens, don’t go to see DR REY expecting it to be of comparable quality to HOWARD’S END or THE REMAINS OF THE DAY.