Sitcom (1998) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but I'd rate it NC-17 for pervasive sexuality, language, violence and nudity
Running Time: 76 min.

Cast: Evelyne Dandry, Francois Marthouret, Marina de Van, Adrien de Van, Lucia Sanchez, Jules-Emmanuel Eyoum Deido, Stephane Rideau          
Director: Francois Ozon

Screenplay: Francois Ozon
Review published March 15, 2004

Francois Ozon (8 Women, Swimming Pool) once again toys with the conventions of cinema, although this time the comedy runs a bit more blacker than most audiences might be accustomed to.  Ozon presents the typical family unit -- husband, wife, son, daughter -- starting off the film with the father coming home for his birthday and presumably shooting them all.  That should tell you that you're in for very perverse and macabre hour plus of the most sensational elements in comedy, with homosexuality, S&M, gangbangs, incest, suicide, animal cruelty, and one of the most surreal endings you're likely to see.  While it may not be to all tastes, as the constant envelope-pushing will most likely offend as many as it attracts, credit Ozon for being able to keep all of these off-the-wall elements consistent to his overall story, and deliver some good laughs and an unlikely pleasant time with it.

Sitcom follows the going-on in the home of a dysfunctional upper middle-class French family who no longer know how to communicate with one another.  The father ignores the children while no longer seeking intimacy with his wife.  The mother wants desperately to return to the way things used to be, while being deliberately ignorant that people can change.  The son comes out at the family dinner, and celebrates his newfound sexual freedom to the hilt.  The daughter finds it tedious to cope, constantly dissatisfied and wanting to end her misery.  Even the newly hired maid and her husband causes some trouble.  Meanwhile, they all become morbidly fascinated with the albino rat they have taken is as a pet -- the only entity they can turn to for solace, but is it a benign friend or a harbinger of doom?

It was a strange year for the family comedy, as Sitcom closely mirrors the look and style of Todd Solondz's equally disturbing Happiness.  Although most critics would give the nod to Solondz for making the better film, I disagree.  I found Sitcom to have better sense of style, humor, and the right tone to pull off the unsettling subject matter in a much livelier way, such that no matter how bizarre or depraved it's willing to go, it elicits more snickers than disgust. 

With Ozon's imagination, visual flair, and an appealing ensemble of actors, Sitcom is a film for those who love comedies on the wild side, so if you aren't willing to accept the fact of its outrageousness beforehand, you may find it too extreme to bear.  It is a rather short feature film, and probably not very substantive to entertain those looking for depth, but for those looking for a surrealist shock-fest on the edge, Ozon covers a lot of mileage in a short amount of time.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo