Bad Seeds – *

Mauvaises Herbes (Kheiron, 2018) – All Foreign Rights (outside France) – Sentimental Dramedy

Lebanese refugee Waël (Kheiron) and his adopted mother Monique (Catherine Deneuve, the grande dame of French cinema) eke out a living in contemporary Paris using various acts of petty crime. One such scam the two use is a charade in which Waël pretends to steal Monique’s purse and thereby induces chivalrous good Samaritans (usually elderly men) to set off in hot pursuit of the supposed thief, while Monique makes off with the contents of their shopping carts. One day the scam goes awry when the duo’s mark turns out to be both very fast and one of Monique’s old flames. This is Victor (André Dusollier) and he happens to run a youth shelter in need of staff. In exchange for not reporting the attempted theft to the police, Victor requires each of the two to work for a short period with him for free. Before you know it, sparks are flying between Monique and Victor, while Waël builds life-changing bonds with his new charges.

Bad Seeds is one of those films I really wanted to like, hoping that it would feature the same kind of moving sentimental comedy that helped to make The Intouchables a major hit, even if I have some misgivings about that particular film. Much to my disappointment, however, Bad Seeds never really pulls off the comedy part of the formula and the parts that were going for sentimental are so contrived and poorly executed that it was impossible to connect with the film’s characters or themes.

Much of the fault for the film’s shortcomings has to rest on the shoulders of its writer-director-star Kheiron, who fails at all three roles he so ambitiously took on in this project. The screenplay’s plotting is full of holes and ham-fisted leaps of genre convention. How did Waël and Monique ever get away with this scam? Are there no police in Paris? How was an unqualified and uneducated guy off the street like Waël allowed to work with vulnerable minors in what surely are highly-regulated environments like the French education and criminal justice systems? These are just some of the more obvious plausibility issues, let’s not even talk about the ridiculous undercover sting that Waël undertakes to rescue one of his students from the clutches of a corrupt counsellor.

The film’s deficiencies are also painfully obvious when it comes to character and performance. Why on earth would students warm to Waël as he is performed in this film? Kheiron is wholly lacking in the kind of charming insouciance needed for this role, which also renders his romantic subplot equally unconvincing. The script’s dialogue doesn’t help much either as bits of teacher-student banter like Waël’s taunting of a male student by telling the other kids that he seems to be gay (!!!) are horrifically misjudged, tone deaf and simply don’t add up to the kind of growing bond we can imagine taking place between the characters. And again, this goes way deeper than I am describing here, as I have even touched on the unconventional teaching assignments that Waël comes up with, which are not remotely funny or instructive for the students.

But the problems go beyond Kheiron. Catherine Deneuve is very lame in this movie, which will be disappointing for any who’ve watched the movie solely based on her star power. I personally have always thought her to be overrated and even her biggest fans would have to admit that she’s not very discriminating when it comes to selecting her roles. But her performance here is lifeless even by her (in my view) low standards. She is just going through the motions and nobody believes for a second that she loves Kheiron or is falling in love with Victor; there’s simply no chemistry.

All told the film is clearly very bad and adding insult to injury is the fact that the film is not even memorably bad. At least with films like Polar or Game Over, Man! there’s some energy and ambition in the films that ends up making them outlandish in some way or another. Bad Seeds on the other hand is just worthy and tedious. This is a great shame as we need more movies that can pull off the good intentions we see in the film. Say what you will about The Intouchables, it did connect with audiences and make them see race and class in new ways and we live in hope that we will get more movies that manage to successfully do those two things.

The film was released theatrically in France shortly before its debut on Netflix internationally. Its popular reception was tepid but it received decent critical notices. Similarly, its launch on Netflix has resulted in mainly positive critical commentaries, so perhaps you won´t find the film to be as disappointing as I did.

Netflix Tendencies

Underrepresented Groups

Writer-director-star Kheiron is Iranian-born and the film thus represents an important act of giving opportunities to minority film-makers in France.

Difficult Themes

As periodic riots remind us, the alienation of youth from various minority backgrounds is a major problem in contemporary French society. With its multicultural inner-city group of adolescent protagonists, the film is laudable for attempting to bring some positivity to this situation, even if the results weren’t exactly ideal.

Notable Corporate Alliances

Bad Seeds was co-financed by two companies with close relationships with Netflix. One of these was Mars Films, which also produced The Climb and Nothing to Hide, each of which were sold to Netflix for international release. The company has a notable track record in producing the sort of sentimental/uplifting yet entertaining and funny films that this film aspired to be. When they get the formula right, they end up with films like the megahit The Belier Family or Demain tout commence, an Omar Sy star vehicle which did great business in France and across Europe. When they get the formula wrong, they end up with forgettably cheesy films like this one and The Climb, both of which were then dumped on to Netflix for their international releases.

The other co-financier and the film’s international sales agent was Studiocanal, a company I have done a bit of research on before. The company has had extensive dealings with Netflix, selling the streaming service an assortment of rights to French films such as this one, The Climb, Sahara and The World is Yours as well as some of the international rights on The Guernsey Literary SocietyAdditionally, Studiocanal has co-produced numerous Netflix original television series, including Crazyhead, Las Chicas del Cable and Safe, among others.  

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