Le Prénom (What’s in a Name?) is Mathieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patellière’s oftentimes hilarious adaptation of their farcical, dinner-table comedy from the stage to the big screen. The vast majority of the movie takes place in the apartment of Pierre (Charles Berling) and Élisabeth (Valerie Benguigui) who are desperately attempting to prepare dinner. Their guests are Vincent (Patrick Bruel), his wife Anna (Judith El Zein), and their long-time friend, bachelor and concert trombonist Claude (Guillaume de Tonquedec). The occasion is Vincent and Anna’s announcement of the name of their unborn baby, a choice which, without giving anything away, does not sit too well with the rest of the group. Through this one conversation, a world of secrets hiding just under the surface is unearthed, and soon enough we find ourselves in a whirlwind of arguments, name-calling, sexuality, dog murder, potential adultery, and flying couscous.
As already mentioned, Le Prénom is an adaptation of a stage play, and Bruel is the only new member amongst the main cast. The other four actors reprise their characters from the stage version and, straight from the off, it is clear that each actor knows their character inside and out. However, the strength of the theatrical cast is also sometimes the movie’s downfall, and there are moments of over-projection where the cast seem to forget they do not have to yell to ensure that the back row can make out every word. At times, Le Prénom’s roots on the stage help to ensure a solid comedy but, at others, it threatens to render the whole affair extremely un-cinematic.
During a prologue which follows a pizza delivery boy around Paris, we are presented with the opening credits. However, this is not strictly a formal affair, as only the first names of the cast appear on-screen, foreshadowing the upcoming story but also creating an air of familiarity, as if the viewer is on first-name terms with the entire cast. This is the effect Delaporte and de La Patellière try to create in the film to differentiate it from the stage original; rather than being an audience separate from the action, we are essentially invited on stage. This effect is continued by the recurring use of close-up shots of character’s faces, so that we feel we know them better than we do, shots from over character’s shoulders to make us feel like we are in the room with them, and even the guessing game to choose the baby’s name. The movie relies heavily on rapid editing presumably again to differentiate it from the stage version. However, this fast cutting quickly becomes tedious when you realise that each cut is undertaken after a character has finished their line, effectively rendering them as talking heads. Aside from a couple of pans across the faces in the room, camera movement is almost non-existent due to the amount of cutting and, when combined with the limited setting, really does create the impression that you are simply watching a stage play shot from multiple camera angles.
However, Le Prénom is full of laughs; the combination of a script overflowing with terrific dialogue and razor-sharp wit, and a cast who could probably perform their respective parts in their sleep ensures a fun night at the cinema. The problem lies in the fact that the movie is essentially a play taking place on the big screen; while it can indeed be hilarious at times, Le Prénom can also make you wish you’d just gone to see the original stage version.