Film Review – Number One Fan
Number One Fan
What would be like to meet someone you really admire? I thought about this idea a few times. We all have that person we look up to outside of our inner circle, whether they’re an entertainer, athlete, philosopher, and so on. They exist on this plateau that seems far off in the distance, where their world and ours exist separately. There are plenty of people I’m a fan of, but I couldn’t see myself associating with them beyond that dynamic. Of course, that’s all nonsense in the end. Those we revere are flesh and bone like the rest of us, made of insecurities, doubts, and eccentricities as well (perhaps even more so). But what would it be like if they were to inexplicably show up at our doorstep, asking for our help? That would be quite the turn of events. To make things even more interesting: what if they showed up with a dead body?
That’s precisely the predicament that falls upon the main character of writer/director Jeanne Herry’s French film, Number One Fan (Elle l’adore, 2014). Blending black comedy with noir, Herry crafts a strange circumstance that brings a singer and his biggest fan together, although it’s not for a signing or photo op. Instead of taking a familiar set up and going through the steps we would expect in a thriller, Herry switches things around. Whether or not this change works will depend on what the viewer expects going in, and how much they’re willing to accept what Herry is doing.
Muriel Bayen (Sandrine Kiberlain) is a divorced mother of two. Muriel has a wild imagination, telling stories to people with no consideration for truth or honesty, as long as the stories are interesting. She spends her days doing three things: 1) Working as a beautician, 2) Spending what little time she has with her children, and 3) Being a huge fan of the singer Vincent Lacroix (Laurent Lafitte). Her fandom of Vincent goes beyond simple interest. Muriel goes to as many of his concerts as she can afford, has multiple copies of his music, has posters/pictures decorated all over her home, and visits his webpage everyday (if not every hour).
Given that this is a thriller and involves an individual’s fandom for a celebrity, we would expect Muriel to have some kind of mental instability when she finally gets to meet Vincent. Think of Kathy Bates and James Caan in Misery (1990). However, this is where Herry throws us for a loop. This time around, it’s the celebrity who comes to the fan with the problem. One night Vincent shows up at Muriel’s home with a dead body in his trunk, asking for her help to get rid of it. Who that body is and why Vincent has it stored in his car I’ll leave out. Because Muriel has such a love for Vincent and his art, she accepts and offers her assistance.
Based on what I’ve just written, this should have been a tension filled nail biter, as we watch Muriel and Vincent cover up this death and avoid suspicion from the authorities. While those events do happen, what’s disappointing about the plot is how lacking it is in actual suspense. This is classic film noir, yet Herry’s execution has a very deliberate, slow pace. Often there are moments of quiet stillness, where characters step back and contemplate their situation. That’s fine, but the narrative never ratchets up to high gear. The direction and cinematography is economical but uninteresting, and the sparse music doesn’t hold our attention. Even when characters burst with emotional peaks, its impact is not powerfully felt. Maybe that isn’t what Herry was interested in, and that’s where our expectations come into play.
The main bright spot is Sandrine Kiberlain’s performance as Muriel. She’s portrayed as a regular, everyday person thrown into a situation where she has to find some inner strength she’s never tapped before. This becomes crucial when investigators come knocking, seeing her as a person of interest. The best scene by far involves the authorities and their interrogation of Muriel. It’s an effective back and forth, with the investigators trying to trap Muriel in a corner with her testimony, and Muriel attempting to wiggle her way out of a jam. Although there was a lack of tension, this scene was fascinating to see what would happen between the two sides. I would have been more engaged if the whole movie were just the interrogation.
Besides a good central performance, Number One Fan lacks the urgency that makes the crime genre so compelling. I can appreciate how Jeanne Herry tried to do something a little different from the norm, but by doing so created a final product that disappears as soon as we step out of the theater. We even get an unneeded ambiguous ending, cheating us out of any sort of resolution. This was a comedic thriller that had little interest in being a comedic thriller.