The non-existent charm of the bourgeoisie – What’s in a Name review


By Simon Miraudo
March 4, 2013

Guess who’s coming to dinner? No one you’d reasonably want to spend time with in real life! Alexandre de La Patellière and Matthieu Delaporte‘s What’s in a Name is a murderously unfunny French farce that could have only had a happy ending if the central characters were poisoned to death by the Moroccan feast they convened for. Based on Delaporte’s play La Prenom, it concerns a quintet of friends who assemble for an evening of eating, drinking, and arguing over semiotics.

When Vincent (Patrick Bruel) tells his sister Elisabeth (Valérie Benguigui) and brother-in law Pierre (Charles Berling) the name of his unborn son, their less-than-enthused reaction sets off the first of many, many shouting matches. What’s he to be christened? Let’s just say, with a name like the one being considered, he wouldn’t be out of place running for office in the Indian state of Meghalaya, where Frankenstein Momin recently faced off against Billykid Sangma and a poor gent called Adolf Hitler.


The seemingly sexless trombone player Claude (Guillaume de Tonquedec) and Vincent’s pregnant wife Anna (Judith El Zein) make up the remainder of the dining party, though they abstain from arguing with the hot-headed trio. That is, until they’re dragged into the ring by accidental revelations from their personal lives. The controversial name proves to be only a catalyst for a number of fights that have long been festering under the surface of this awful group of so-called friends. If I found any one of these five relatable, I wouldn’t be wondering what to call my son, but rather inquiring into an operation that would make procreation an impossibility.

Seeing as we spend much of the film in Elisabeth and Claude’s apartment, comparisons to Roman Polanski’s play-to-film adaptation Carnage will likely be drawn. But Carnage – which showcased two sets of parents as they devolved into screeching children – was an hilarious satire in which social conventions were deconstructed. They even made a running joke out of why the characters kept talking each other out of parting ways; the result of their inability to be perceived as impolite by people they despise.

In What’s in a Name, only once does someone threaten to leave, when clearly these people should have cut ties with one another years earlier. There is no affection, or even begrudging respect; only smug, self-satisfied disdain, dressed up as familial joshing. What’s in a Name is one-dimensional and way too proud of its premise. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie? So discreet you can’t even see it.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

What’s in a Name plays the Perth International Arts Festival from March 4-17, 2013.

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