Although Hulu’s ‘The Valet’ has been chalked up as a romantic comedy, its narrative courts less optimistic designations, at least until before the climax of the film. Don’t get me wrong, the humor is there, earnest in its execution and deeply embedded in almost every other scene, but there are moments when somberness and solemnity take over, elevating the film to a different level.
Directed by Richard Wong, who previously helmed projects such as the 2006 musical ‘Colma: The Musical’ and the 2019 dramedy ‘Come As You Are,’ ‘The Valet’ is the English remake of the 2006 French film of the same name (‘La Doublure’). It tells the story of an unlikely bond between a global movie star and an ordinary man. Olivia Allan (Samara Weaving) has paid a steep price in loneliness and anxiety for her stardom. She isn’t close to her family; her “friends” are her employees. She is in a secret relationship with the married billionaire real-estate developer Vincent Royce (Max Greenfield), who she fears will never leave his wife Kathryn (Betsy Brandt) for her. During a public spat, Olivia and Vincent are photographed together by the paparazzi. Olivia correctly fears that the public reaction will be a nightmare and agrees to pretend that she is in a relationship with Antonio (Eugenio Derbez), the parking valet that just had an accident and ended up in the same frame as Olivia and Vincent when the paparazzi took the photo.
As the film progresses and Olivia and Antonio get to know each other, they develop a sense of camaraderie despite the millions of dissimilarities between them. Meanwhile, Kathryn remains suspicious and hires a private investigator to unearth the truth, prompting Vincent and his lawyer to hire a P.I. of their own to ensure that Kathryn doesn’t find out their plans. As for Antonio’s family, they understandably have difficulty comprehending the recent turn of events. ‘The Valet’ showcases immigrant life mainly through the prism of Mexican culture. Arguably the most heart-warming sub-plot in the film involves Antonio’s mother Cecilia (Carmen Salinas) and their Korean landlord Mr. Kim. Neither understands the other’s language, but that doesn’t prevent them from having a fulfilling relationship.
Weaving delivers a decent performance as a troubled screen queen. Derbez is a prominent figure in the Mexican film industry, especially since the global success of his 2013 film ‘Instructions Not Included.’ He plays Antonio by oscillating between humor and pathos. But it is the late great Carmen Salinas, appearing in what has become her final project as an actor, who steals every scene she is in. Contrarily, Greenfield is loud and over the top, as if he is the only cast member to receive a memo with the instructions to constantly wink at the camera. While the rest of the cast exercises a certain amount of restraint, Greenfield seems to be perpetually channeling Schmidt (his character from Fox’s ‘New Girl’) at his worst.
Unfortunately, that is not the biggest issue with ‘The Valet.’ The 2006 original movie was directed by the legendary comic auteur Francis Veber. The delectable farce prevalent in ‘La Doublure’ and every other Veber film is glaringly absent in the English remake. The over-arching plot has been watered down and simplified, and in the process, ‘The Valet’ has lost a significant part of its identity. But even that would have been acceptable if the film were consistent about what it wants to say. In the pursuit of a happy ending, ‘The Valet’ barters away certain elements of the plot that seemed important until halfway into its nearly two-hour runtime. It also doesn’t let its two main characters complete their transformation, making choices that will likely please the audience but don’t make much sense in terms of the narrative.
Despite all this, it’s undeniable that ‘The Valet’ is an entertaining film. It succeeds in telling a convincing — albeit erratic — story. The finest moments of the film are not when the humor comes easily but when it is hidden amidst grief and the confrontation with reality. ‘The Valet’ doesn’t traverse the well-worn paths of ‘Notting Hill,’ ‘Maid in Manhattan,’ or even ‘She’s Out of My League,’ it makes its own path.
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