With "The Chateau," writer-director Jesse Peretz comes up with enough fresh twists to the ugly American vs. surly French confrontation to sustain this delightfully bittersweet culture-clash comedy. If what's funny is frequently hilarious, then what's nasty truly stings, and the film is honest enough not to tie up everything with a ribbon. Everyone by the end emerges wiser, though not necessarily friends.
Paul Rudd stars as Graham Grandville, a sweet-natured, curly haired slacker from Lawrence, Kan., caught up in his latest therapy and New Age-ish thinking that includes vague dreams of a career in counseling. His older adopted African American brother Allen (Romany Malco), who has decided he wants to be called Rex, is a slick L.A. entrepreneur. The Grandville brothers were orphaned early and are not close, but are swiftly reunited when they receive word that the noble French relative they never knew, their great-uncle, the Count Jacques de Grandville, has died, and that as his nearest relatives they have become the unexpected owners of his ancient, moated chateau, its contents, and all its dependencies and land.
Making their way, not without difficulties, to the chateau in rural France, they find their existence is unknown by the chateau's staff, headed by a formally dressed butler, Jean (Didier Flamand), a tall, silver-haired man with a superior air but also thankfully fluent in English. Jean is not at all glad to see them but reluctantly accepts the authenticity of their documents and claim to the estate. What Graham and Rex had not anticipated is that the chateau, a superb 18th century structure with 15 bedrooms built on a 14th-century foundation, is in a decrepit state and that the Count was virtually penniless. Besides Jean, the staff consists only of an older couple, Sabine (Maria Verdi) and Pierre (Philippe Nahon); the groundskeeper; and a young maid, Isabelle (Sylvie Testud), the single mother of a baby.
Even though the well-meaning Graham can be disastrously obtuse, he is enchanted with the shabby-elegant estate, while Rex is not unreasonably figuring how they can unload their property as fast and profitably as possible. Both are attracted to the demure Sylvie, albeit with different motives.
Language and cultural barriers arise swiftly, however, especially when the chateau's tiny staff learns that the brothers are looking to sell it. They don't trust Graham's agreeing with them that any buyer should keep them on for life, and the offended Sabine and Pierre set out sabotaging every possible sale. As tension builds at the chateau, Graham behaves more and more like a jerk and Rex like an unsavory seducer and con man. As complications multiply, Peretz throws a curve, a clever surprise at the film's climax that allows for an ending likely to satisfy audiences more than its characters.
Peretz has a way with his cast (that includes a glorious Donal Logue as the worst possible prospective buyer) and with dialogue and a plot that is alternately and sometimes simultaneously hilarious and painful. "The Chateau" is a small film shot resourcefully on digital that shows Rudd and Malco to good advantage and comes as a satisfying surprise.
MPAA rating: R, for strong language. Times guidelines: In addition to some strong words there are adult themes and situations.
Paul Rudd ... Graham Grandville
Romany Malco ... Allen "Rex" Grandville
Didier Flamand ... Jean
Sylvie Testud ... Isabelle
An IFC Films presentation. Writer-director Jesse Peretz. Executive producers John Penotti, Fisher Stevens, Bradley Yonover, Dolly Hall. Producers Scott Macauley, Robin O'Hara. Cinematographer Tom Richmond. Editors Steve Hamilton, James Lyons. Production designer Christian Marti. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.
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