Slap Her... She's French

Slap Her... She's French

Two of the most reliable stooges in American pop culture—representatives of France and Texas—meet for a battle royal in Melanie Mayron's Slap Her... She's French, a strident comedy that doesn't get around to debunking stereotypes until it's squeezed plenty of mileage out of them. A crafty exchange student with ulterior motives, Piper Perabo represents the French, who are lazily regarded as rude, amorous beret-wearers who love Jerry Lewis. Her adversary (Jane McGregor), a career-minded blonde who aspires to be the next Katie Couric, is a newer, dumber model of Southern belle: bubbly, superficial, and relentlessly self-absorbed, with a hint of white trash thrown in for good measure. On the strength of funny accents and broad culture clashes, Mayron tries for a junior-league All About Eve, but that backfires horribly, not least because her diabolical Eve (Perabo) is more charismatic and imaginative than her heroine. Cut from the same mold as Nicole Kidman in To Die For or Reese Witherspoon in Election, McGregor is a model of ruthless, empty-headed ambition, with a step-by-step checklist to lead her from high school to Wellesley to a slot on network television. Reigning beauty queen, captain of the cheerleading squad, and morning anchorwoman for the school TV station, McGregor seems well on her way, until her family takes in Perabo, a French wallflower whose deferential manner hides her more sinister motives. Happy at first to have a sounding board and mascot, McGregor watches in horror as Perabo takes over, subtly ingratiating herself with McGregor's family, peers, and quarterback boyfriend, while plotting to knock McGregor off her perch. Beginning with the title, Slap Her... She's French trades a classic premise for frantic, gag-a-minute comedy that riffs broadly on hicks, Europeans, and the usual suburban mores. Worse yet, the film's sympathies are curiously out of whack: In spite of her inevitable about-face toward redemption, McGregor fully deserves her comeuppance, especially when it's delivered by the sprightly Perabo, whose only crime is in beating McGregor fairly at her own game. Mayron scores laughs off McGregor's outrageous vanity and unscrupulous maneuvering, but miscalculates her appeal, a mistake akin to the makers of To Die For or Election suddenly rooting for their busybody antagonists. The more McGregor lightens up, the more it seems like Perabo is performing a valuable service.

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