3 out of 5
Directed by: Quentin Dupieux
As a big fan of Quentin Dupieux’s sometimes offputtingly outre body of cinematic work, ‘Steak,’ his first full film, is clearly that – his first – and thus not really as bold with its approach as even his next movie, ‘Rubber,’ would prove to be. For that reason, though, it’s probably more accessible: it’s more directly funny, and while certainly including its own wacky context akin to Rubber’s “killer tire” shtick, it’s something that’s closer to social commentary, even if it proves rather limited in its exploration of that.
Georges (Ramzy Bedia) seems to exist solely for schoolmates to throw things at him and smush his face into his lunch. Georges take this abuse with a smile, but thanks to the machine gun he happened across in a perfectly random car crash, he has a method for revenge, which he takes off screen. Another man, Blaise (Eric Judor), seemingly familiar and friendly with Georges, finds his friend walking in a haze after the event, and is impressed with the “replica” gun he’s carrying. Blaise is playing around with the gun, realizing it’s real, when the police arrive.
Flash forward 7 years later, as Blaise is released from a mental hospital.
Does this opening seem particularly dark in description? Absolutely. What is impressive about Steak is how Dupieux manages to keep a light-hearted tone throughout, which makes a lot of questionable events somehow completely palatable. This is helped out by the incredibly ebullient physical performances of Bedia and Judor, a known French comedic duo who slide into Dupieux’s world just right – not chewing up scenery as they might in a more typical film, but rather at home in the offbeat, embellished tone.
But beyond this oddly upbeat intro, a viewer’s willingness to go with the remaining 70ish minutes is dependent on how one takes to the completely unexplained changes that follow: that some time within those past seven years, plastic surgery has become the popular thing to do, to the extent that Georges shows up to pick up Blaise from his release with complete facial bandages from a recent operation. Also, we don’t say “hello” anymore, we say “boot.” Also, jokes now consist of pointing to a cloud and asking if it looks like cotton. Also, Georges is part of a “gang” called Chivers that wears red sports jackets emblazoned with the same, only hangs out with people who’ve had plastic surgery, drink milk out of glass bottles all the time, and passes the time by playing a game in which they answer math questions and then get beaten – for the correct answers – with a cricket bat. Lastly, Georges was just doing this one last favor for Blaise (no real ‘thanks’ for taking the whole murder rap); otherwise, it’s so long – don’t talk to me, because I’m hanging out with Chivers.
It’s a gobsmackingly funny gag – that things have changed so drastically -that Dupieux just keeps doubling down on, but once the bits and pieces are established, the movie just kind of revels in it while a Mr. Oizo / Sébastien Tellier / SebastiAn soundtrack plays. There’s more that happens with Blaise – rebranding himself as “Chuck” – tries to ingratiate himself with Chivers, but this feels more like an extended sketch than a film, just trailing an idea out to a logical end point which gets to an exclamation point of a punchline, delivered with gusto, and then runs away right after, leaving you to wonder if you’re laughing at the joke or its delivery.
This is in line with the tone of Dupieux’s films, but it’s the way that ‘Steak’ would seem to pursue this solely for comedy that limits a response to it; I’m not left as addled or perplexed as I am by his other movies, rather just sort of smirking at how silly it is.
Again, though, that also makes it a rather easy watch, and the accessibility of the comedy (Judor, in particular, is given a lot of great scenes) makes this the kind of “cult” film that you can actually force on people and maybe not get as many hated looks as you would from making the non-converted sit through later Dupieux entries.