Waiting for Bojangles

Waiting for Bojangles

2022, NR, 124 min. Directed by Régis Roinsard. Starring Virginie Efira, Romain Duris, Solan Machado Graner, Grégory Gadebois, Milo Machado Graner, Marie Fontannaz.

REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Sept. 2, 2022

When Olivier Bourdeaut’s novel, En Attendant Bojangles, was published in 2016, it quickly became a bestseller, striking an emotional chord with French (and subsequently international) readers. It is an eccentrically spun tale, told mostly in rhyme, pitting true love against mental illness, where dreams and delusions stave off the tragic realities of life. George and Camille’s story is told through the viewpoint of an unnamed child narrator, lightly interspersed with excerpts from George’s journal. For it is poor Camille who is ultimately unable to keep the madness at bay, and filtering that through the perspective of her offspring lends the novel a sense of both wonder and pathos.

This adaptation from director Régis Roinsard (The Translators) and screenwriter Romain Compingt completely removes that narrative framework from Waiting for Bojangles, instead opting for a straightforward story. The decision is a fatal one. In removing that voice, thus the context, the film renders every emotional beat as a stale cliche, becoming yet another reductive treatise on the merits and societal pitfalls of marching to a different beat.

As George (Duris) first spies Camille (Efira) at a swanky cocktail party in the French Riviera circa 1958, she is doing exactly that. He’s a rakish liar with a winning smile and she is spontaneity personified, her traumatic past briefly sketched out by mutual friend Charles (Gadebois). The film spends little time dwelling on that, however. Instead, the couple falls in love between bouts of tall-tale one-upmanship, and the story moves to Paris in the late Sixties. George and Camille have a son, Gary (Solan Machado Graner), a precocious, well-mannered child with a keen imagination. When not endlessly spinning the the song referenced in the title (Nina Simone’s version in the novel; here, a similar-sounding rendition by New Zealand crooner Marlon Williams, because music rights, presumably), Gary and his father spend their time being delightfully held hostage by Camille’s increasingly dark mood swings, going to great lengths to fight them off. Every whim, from endless cocktail parties to caring for a pet demoiselle crane, is seen to, until financial arrears send them packing to a castle in Spain for the melancholic final act.

Formally, Waiting for Bojangles looks marvelous, with Roinsard artfully weaving through throngs of partygoers placed in vibrant, lived-in spaces and exotic locales, and Virginie Efira continues her run of outstanding performances (see Sibyl, Benedetta), but she is ultimately ill-served by a character and a film that’s removed any gravitas it seeks to instill by paradoxically not being removed enough. Even taken on its own terms, Waiting for Bojangles exists to merely further romanticize mental illness as just another characteristic of being a free spirit, just too good for this world. She ain’t heavy, she’s just quirky.

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Waiting for Bojangles, Régis Roinsard, Virginie Efira, Romain Duris, Solan Machado Graner, Grégory Gadebois, Milo Machado Graner, Marie Fontannaz

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