Kim Chapiron’s Smart Ass (La crème de la crème) is an interesting sort of film, which utilises the fact that the teen genre has more and more frequently turned towards some sort of hybrid and subversion of the traditional tropes that came before it. Like Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, Smart Ass figures a lot is potentially at stake for the characters, which therefore means that any and all events will indeed cause tension and drama but also most likely force the audience into discussion of one theme or another. Whilst Chapiron’s merits as a filmmaker do bring about some sort of conversation around the brutal attitudes towards sex and sexuality within young people today, the greatest downfall for the characters in Smart Ass is that not enough feels at stake for them, so when they move towards losing it all, the audience don’t really care. Obviously, if the audience have lost interest in the characters themselves, which unfortunately in the case of this film, feel somewhat underdeveloped, then the final conclusion no matter how intriguing and provocative is going to lose its power.
Primarily following a group of three students at one of the best and most cut throat business schools in France, Smart Ass is a clever and sometimes witty ride through sexual politics, inequality and money making. Jaffar (Karim Ait M’Hand) and his flat mate, Dan (Thomas Blumenthal) are loners, geeks, nerds; they hang out mainly with one another and have an awful time trying to get any girls. When the audience are first introduced to Jaffar, he is watching pornography in his bedroom; he is getting off to the sexual violence towards women but when he finishes masturbating, he can simply switch off and then he doesn’t have to think about it any longer. Dan has given up somewhat, whilst Jaffar cannot accept his own social position and continues to try and get girls, Dan is somewhat removed from the whole situation and is much more comfortable with his numbers and business jargon.
When one night Jaffar and Dan are at a nightclub event run by the college, they meet Kelly (Alice Isaaz), who tells the pair that she is a lesbian and not to bother hitting on her. It is through this small but significant piece of information that almost acts barrier like for Kelly, she can now move freely and with respect amongst these boys – no longer viewed like a piece of meat but rather some sort of comrade for the long run. The boys introduce her to the various groups at the college – the sporting groups, the cool kids, the society kids etc etc – in a somewhat European run through of the various cliques that audiences are used to – yet this is about as close to the traditional teen genre as Smart Ass gets. Kelly returns back with Jaffar and Dan to their flat, listens to their predicament with girls and sets her own plan into motion. She literally pays a girl to spend time and sleep with Jaffar, who believes it all to be real so that when others at the school see the hot girl and Jaffar together at a party, he will suddenly rise within the ranks of student society.
Here is where the story really begins and enter Louis (Jean-Baptiste Lafarge), the final member of these misfits – although one is never quite sure why or how he ended up here considering he is intelligent, handsome and very charming and of course – this being the teen genre, the good looking ones usually end up popular. Whilst Jaffar starts to enjoy his own societal standing. the other three; Dan, Kelly and Louis find themselves starting what can only be described as a pimping service, paying women to spend time with and often sleep with boys at the school. Their principles are both simple and intelligent all at once – according to their business acumen that by creating the demand, they make something become more worthwhile.
So for the rest of the film, this is the route it takes; various stories and characters come and go, all the whilst these three pay girls to be with boys. Their blatant disregard or respect for themselves or anyone around them, make them superstars in their own right because ultimately no one can touch them. They become drunk on power and at one very intimate and interesting moment, there appears to be a spark of a relationship starting between the three, but the film is never quite sure enough of itself to push it that far. Instead Louis continues to pine over Kelly, who seems less and less good at keeping up the lie about her sexuality; the good looking boy and the good looking girl have chemistry, there is no surprise there.
As the film moves towards its natural and rather obvious conclusion, Chapiron does throw the audience a number of twists and turns but none of them have any real affect on the narrative movement, which is a shame because they are all thrown in with the best of intentions but unfortunately there just doesn’t seem enough at risk, especially when dealing with something so powerful on screen. The chemistry between the three leads is quite admirable and good enough to push the story on without it lagging. But unfortunately whilst on paper Smart Ass tries to do something new and different, it simply seems to pretend to do so before falling back into the naughty corner where it was caught before it could do any real damage.
Smart Ass plays from 25th July at Cine Lumiere, London
Watch trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwLhNOzQGNY