Review: ‘Waiting for Bojangles,’ starring Virginie Efira, Romain Duris and Grégory Gadebois

September 3, 2022

by Carla Hay

Romain Duris and Virginie Efira in “Waiting for Bojangles” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“Waiting for Bojangles”

Directed by Régis Roinsard

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place briefly in 1958 and mostly in 1967, in France and Spain, the comedy/drama film “Waiting for Bojangles” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A longtime con artist and a seemingly free-spirited woman fall in love and have a son together, but she is battling a serious mental illness that threatens to ruin their relationship.

Culture Audience: “Waiting for Bojangles” will appeal mainly to people who don’t mind watching tonally imbalanced movies that have irresponsible depictions of mental illness.

Solan Machado Graner, Romain Duris and Virginie Efira in “Waiting for Bojangles” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

The cast members look committed to their roles, but the comedy/drama “Waiting for Bojangles” has an off-balance tone that carelessly tries to make mental illness look like a cutesy personality quirk. The movie’s manipulative ending is awful. The only people who will like the ending of “Waiting for Bojangles” are viewers who are willing to go along with and overlook all the bad parenting on display in this annoying movie that tries to make a lot of excuses for adults’ horrendous actions.

Directed by Régis Roinsard, “Waiting for Bojangles” is based on Olivier Bourdeaut’s 2016 novel of the same name. Roinsard and Romain Compingt co-wrote the movie screenplay for “Waiting for Bojangles.” The novel has also been made into a theater production and a comic book geared to adults. On the surface, the movie might look like a lighthearted romantic comedy, but it takes a very dark and unpleasant turn in the last third of the film.

The opening scene in “Waiting for Bojangles” begins in 1958, at an upscale party attended by society people in an unnamed city in southeastern France. The party is being held at a mansion overlooking the French Riviera. A raconteur named George Fouquet (played by Romain Duris) doesn’t know anyone at the party, but that doesn’t stop him from being charming and sociable with the people he meets at this soiree. Georges smiles a lot and exudes confidence, which make him look attractive and friendly.

Within the first 10 minutes of the movie, viewers will see that Georges is telling people different stories about who he is. He tells some people that he’s from Romania and that his father was an important auto dealer in Detroit. He tells some other people that he’s originally from Spain.

A few people notice that Georges speaks perfect French, with no trace of an accent from another country, but he has an explanation for every question that people might have about him. Word gets around the party about this intriguing stranger. And before you know it, some of the people who think that Georges is from Romania start speculating that he’s a direct descendant of Count Dracula.

Why is Georges lying about who he is? He’s a longtime con artist, and he’s actually an uninvited guest who crashed this party. One of the first people he meets at this soiree is a pretty and lively blonde woman (played by Virginie Efira), who refuses to tell Georges her name when he asks her. She jokes that her name is Jean-Paul.

Georges tells her that he’ll call her Antoinette, because he says that women named Antoinette are usually glamorous. She takes Georges’ comment as the compliment it was meant to be. And so begins the flirtation and joking banter between Georges and “Antoinette” at this party, where they drink champagne and end up dancing with each other.

“Antoinette” tells Georges that he reminds her of a portrait painting that she has of a handsome Prussian hussar. (As soon as she mentions this painting, you just know this painting will be seen later in the movie.) Georges reacts by making up an entire story about how he is the hussar in the painting, and he proceeds to talk about this fabricated life. “Antoinette” goes along with this obvious joke.

Many of the party attendees begin talking to each other about Georges, so it’s eventually discovered that he’s been telling conflicting stories about himself. Numerous party attendees surround and corner Georges at the same time to demand to know who he really is. Georges admits that he was never invited to this party. And just as he’s about to be thrown out, “Antoinette” jumps into the nearby Mediterranean Sea as a distraction. Georges jumps in after her, to show her that he’s just as much of an impulsive daredevil that she is.

And the next thing you know, Georges and “Antoinette” are driving off in Georges’ car, she suggests they get married, they find an empty chapel somewhere in the mountains, and they “marry” each other in a private, non-legal ceremony with no one else but Georges and “Antoinette” in the room. The chapel just happens to be lighted with candles and “Antoinette” somehow has a white bridal veil, even though the movie never explains where she got that veil. Get used to “Waiting for Bojangles” having a lot of scenes that raise a lot of questions that remain unanswered.

“Waiting for Bojangles” is filled with a lot of these unrealistic scenarios, because the movie tries hard to convince viewers that this relationship started off as a whirlwind, “fairytale” romance. Even after getting “married,” the woman whom Georges calls “Antoinette” still hasn’t told him her real name or anything about herself. “Waiting for Bojangles” keeps pushing the warped idea that this deceit and secrecy are supposed to make the couple’s relationship look exciting, with a hint of danger, when it’s actually just a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

After having sex on the chapel floor, Georges and “Antoinette” spend the night in the chapel. He wakes up to find her gone, and two elderly women looking shocked when they see naked Georges (who somehow found a mattress to sleep on) in the chapel where the two women have arrived to pray. Georges makes a hasty exit, drives back into the nearest town to look for his new “bride,” and within minutes he finds her.

“Antoinette” is really a very troubled woman named Camille. Georges finds out her identity by going to his middle-aged playboy friend Charles (played by Grégory Gadebois), who knows people at the party that Georges crashed. Georges asks Charles to help Georges find this mystery woman. Charles is a member of the French Parliament, and Georges finds him in a hotel room after Charles has been entertaining two women who were Charles’ sexual conquests. It turns out that Charles knows Camille, who works at a flower shop, because she’s a longtime friend of his.

Georges goes to the flower shop where Camille works and sees her in a conflict with her boss (played by Christian Ameri), who accuses her of stealing money. Camille angrily throws a small tub of water at the boss and yells at him, “I quit!” Georges witnesses this spectacle, and he grins as if he’s proud of Camille.

As she walks out of the flower shop in a huff, Georges catches up to Camille and starts talking to her as if he’s not bothered at all that she walked out on him and left him behind at the chapel. Georges confesses to Camille that he’s a chronic liar and a con artist but that he’s fallen madly in love with her. Camille tells Georges, “Congratulations. You’re a scoundrel. I’m the queen of lost causes.”

During this conversation on the street, Georges convinces Camille that they should be a couple, even though she cynically tells him that people rarely end up with the loves of their lives. Georges replies by saying that she hasn’t met the love of her life yet. He predicts that the love of her life will be a son they have together named Gary, named after actor Gary Cooper.

The movie then abruptly fast-forwards nine months later. Camille is in a hospital ward giving birth, while Georges and Charles are in a waiting area outside. Camille gives birth to a boy. And you already know what Georges and Camille will name their son: Gary.

“Waiting for Bojangles” then does another sudden time jump, to 1967. Gary (played by Solan Machado Graner) is now 8 or 9 years old. And he’s being bullied by some boys at school because Gary has inherited his parents’ habit of telling lies and making up grandiose stories about themselves.

There’s a scene in the movie where Camille tells Gary, “When reality is a banal and sad, make up a fabulous story.” In other words, she’s advising her son to tell lies to escape from reality. It’s a horrible way to teach a child to cope with life’s difficulties.

Eventually, it’s also revealed that Camille (who is a homemaker) doesn’t really care if Gary attends school on a regular basis. Instead, she is more concerned about making Gary think that life can be one big party with no real responsibilities. And for a while, Camille and Georges live this way, by throwing large and boisterous house parties with eclectic groups of people that range from aristocrats to working-class poor people as guests at the same party.

Georges has gotten an unnamed sales job that barely pays for this lavish lifestyle that Camille and Georges want to have. Camille doesn’t really like that Georges has the responsibility of an office job with strict working hours, but she tolerates it as long as she thinks Georges doesn’t become too “boring” for her. Georges just want to make Camille happy.

Because Gary has no friends and Camille doesn’t seem to care that he’s socially isolated, Camille gets him a Demoiselle crane named Miss Superfétatoire, nicknamed Mademoiselle. The movie never explains how this Demoiselle crane came into the family’s possession, but it’s treated like a dog that they walk around on leash. This Demoiselle crane becomes Gary’s closest friend. Charles pops in and out of this family’s life, usually to help out when things get rough for Camille and Georges.

Things eventually do come crashing down for this family. And not just because Georges and Camille get heavily in debt. Camille has a secret that Charles already knows about but eventually Georges finds out when he sees her sudden and extreme mood swings. She has a mental illness that is not named in the movie, but it looks like bipolar disorder, based on what Camille says and does. And she does some heinous things that put herself and other people in danger.

“Waiting for Bojangles” gets its name from the fact that “Mr. Bojangles” is Camille’s favorite song since childhood, because it reminds her of happier times in her youth. Camille and Georges also dance to this song as often as possible because they consider it to be their couple’s song. The problem with this plot device is that in real life, “Mr. Bojangles” was originally recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1969 and released in 1970—after the events in this movie take place. It’s one of many sloppy aspects of the writing in “Waiting for Bojangles.”

In real life, artists such as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sammy Davis Jr., Nina Simone and Bob Dylan had well-known cover versions of “Mr. Bojangles” in the 1970s. People with knowledge of this music history might be confused over why “Mr. Bojangles,” which wasn’t released until the 1970s and is most associated with the 1970s, is supposed to be a childhood favorite song of a movie character who was supposed to be born sometime in the 1930s. The “Waiting for Bojangles” novel is set in the 2010s, and is told from the perspectives of Gary as a child and his father. The “Waiting for Bojangles” movie foolishly changes the time period setting to the 1950s and 1960s, even though the movie’s centerpiece song is a 1970s song.

The production notes for “Waiting for Bojangles” has a Q&A-formatted interview with “Waiting for Bojangles” director Roinsard, who says he chose to have the movie take place in the 1950s and 1960s, because “I have a weakness for these two decades … and the ’80s too.” Roinsard also says in this interview that he wanted to have the movie take place during a time before cell phones existed. Then why not just set the movie in the 1980s, and have it be Camille’s favorite song from her younger years? At least the 1980s would be a decade where the “Mr. Bojangles” song existed in real life.

The incorrect timeline for the “Mr. Bojangles” song is not the only thing very wrong with the “Waiting for Bojangles” movie. It drags on for too long, with a total running time of 124 minutes. At least 20 minutes could have been cut from the movie if the filmmakers decided to shorten some of the repetitive party scenes that don’t do much for the story. The pacing becomes tedious in scenes where it’s just a rehash of Camille and Georges trying to avoid their obvious troubles.

The cast members’ performances aren’t really a problem, although at times the acting is too affected and self-aware of the cameras. As the volatile and unpredictable Camille, Efira does what she’s supposed to do in portraying a mentally ill person who goes through a wide range of emotions. Duris is quite watchable as Georges, until his character becomes a bit too one-note. Viewers with enough life experience will not see the Georges/Camille love affair as endearing but will see it for what it really is: a dysfunctional and delusional train wreck.

The movie doesn’t give a lot of background information to explain why Georges and Camille ended up as they people they are in this story. The only thing that viewers will learn about the people who knew Georges before he met Camille is that he briefly mentions that his parents have now disowned him because he and Camille are living together and have started a family without being married. (In the “Waiting for Bojangles” book, the couple is legally married.) The movie tells absolutely nothing about where Camille comes from and who were her loved ones before meeting Georges.

The movie’s character development is very flimsy. Camille becomes increasingly unstable, while Georges (who’s often in denial about Camille’s mental illness) becomes an increasingly helpless bystander to Camille’s out-of-control meltdowns. The strain of taking care of a mentally ill partner eventually diminishes a lot of Georges’ zest for life, although he tries to put up a happy front for Gary. The movie doesn’t have character development as much as it just has a series of scenes where this family has to deal with chaos (almost always inflicted by Camille) that gets worse over time.

“Waiting for Bojangles” has a tinge of misogyny, because Camille is the only female character with a significant speaking role in the movie—and she’s a mess with a violent temper. For example, when a male debtor stops by the family home to tell Camille and Georges that they’re about to lose their home, Camille reacts by viciously beating this stranger with an umbrella until he leaves in fear. Georges witnesses this crime but does nothing to stop it and does nothing to admonish Camille for this cruel violence. After a while, the movie turns Camille from a loving but difficult woman into a problematic and dangerous quasi-villain.

“Waiting for Bojangles” is also a very “straight male gaze” film, because even though Camille and Georges have nude scenes, only Camille has full-frontal nudity in the movie. It’s a double standard that implies that male directors don’t want to see the genitals of their male actors on screen, but these male directors tell their female actors to get fully naked and show their entire nude bodies on screen. This double standard is usually an example of sexist exploitation of women by directors.

Although the movie has the benefit of some gorgeous cinematography and aesthetically pleasing production design, “Waiting for Bojangles” has a very off-putting way of telling the human part of the story. It starts off as an absurdist romantic comedy and ends up as a heavy-handed tragedy, with a final scene that is overly contrived to be a tearjerker. Avoid watching “Waiting for Bojangles” if you don’t want to see a very misguided and borderline offensive portrayal of mental illness.

Blue Fox Entertainment released “Waiting for Bojangles” in select U.S. cinemas on September 2, 2022. The movie was released in France on January 5, 2022.

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