Monday, 31 March 2014

Jacques Tati's "Playtime": A Waste of Time

As a film student I've had to watch a lot of movies. Some of them were great, others were a... much more difficult experience. I've already discussed my thoughts on Jean-Luc Godard but right now I'm looking at a different French director: Jacques Tati.

When I learned we were viewing Jacques Tati's Playtime I was interested. I've never been a huge Tati fan but I've seen a bit of his work here and there and I know he can be amusing, so I figured we'd be in for a fun little comedy with some humorous antics. What we got instead was an unfunny, boring, and frustrating movie that had no idea what it was doing and which kept dragging on far longer than it needed to.

So let's start by looking at this film's plot. Normally I'd give you a summary or something but here there isn't really much of a plot to go on. Mr. Hulot is in it again, and he kinda bumbles around and gets mixed up some American tourists and befriends a young woman among them. That's more or less the extent of any kind of plot. Otherwise it's simply a bunch of incoherent segments that don't really have anything to do with each other. Most of those moments also drag on far longer than they need to, like this one scene where Mr. Hulot meets up with an old war buddy and hangs out at his apartment.

There's an extended shot of him sitting in the apartment with his war buddy's family, while we see several other random people in neighboring apartments watching the same television program as them. The scene goes on for some time, with no audible dialogue and the only noise being from the street before Mr. Hulot suddenly leaves and goes on. In other words, this scene goes absolutely nowhere.

The part that I found really annoying, though, was the party scene that made up most of the second half of the movie. This one had a bunch of gags but none of them really paid off. We get a few gags that, with some good timing in any other film, could have been legitimately funny, like the part where Mr. Hulot smashes the door while trying to open it but the doorman continues to hold the doorknob in place and pretend to open the door for people when they come in, or the waiter who keeps getting himself dirty and having to switch clothing items with another guy.

As it is, though, none of them ever really got a laugh out of me. Heck, the joke with the waiters seemed a bit cruel and just made me feel bad for the poor guy who keeps having to put on all the dirty clothes. I also recall there were a few gags that never really paid off, like the joke about the waiters constantly putting dressing on a fish while it was still on a tray to be served to the customers, only for the customers to then say the fish wasn't their's.

And what was up with those chairs? There's this absurd running joke in the first half of the movie involving these chairs that scrunch up and make a "WHOOSH" noise when they do so. For some reason Mr. Hulot keeps encountering these chairs and seeing people who like to show them off. What's the joke? Why is this funny?

From a technical standpoint as well, there wasn't much to be impressed by. The movie couldn't even get the audio synced up. Characters speak but their voices don't match their mouths and it's really quite jarring.

If you'd like some good French comedy with some fun humor and well-timed gags, you're not going to find it here. You could try any number of other Jacques Tati films, or perhaps Amélie. With Playtime, you're going to get about two hours of needlessly long and boring scenes with almost no correlation and poorly-timed gags at best.

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