Director Alain Resnais ends the 1980s and what is alleged to be a creative renaissance with the farcical I Want to Go Home, a tribute to old movie musicals and comic books. In a cultural exchange that is reflected in the story, the French production was co-written by Jules Feiffer, a revered cartoonist himself. He tells the tale of Joey Wellman, a washed-up American comic strip artist who is coming to France for a celebration of his newspaper strip Heppcat. Joey is played by Adolph Green, the composer behind such legendary musicals as On the Town and Singin' in the Rain, and given Joey's penchant for breaking into song as a way to communicate with the foreigners whose language he can't understand, it might have made more sense to have him be an old songwriter rather than a cartoonist. But such is one of countless missteps in this insufferable comedy. I Want to Go Home has confused being perplexing with being entertaining.
Joey is actually following his daughter to Paris, he is not so convinced that his drawings really deserve the honor of a museum show. Elsie (Laura Benson) left Cleveland two years prior to prove she was not her father's daughter. It's hard to deny one's DNA, however, and just like her father, she shares private debates with animated versions of his characters. He mainly talks to Heppcat, she talks to the girl Sally Cat, and each pops up in thought balloons to berate them for the stupid things they do. It's meant to be cute and possibly even Freudian, but it never quite works. Maybe it's that the manifestations are voiced by the hammy Adolph Green, maybe it's because Benson's acting is exaggerated and forced--then again, I guess their tendency to overact does make them like father and daughter even if it's an unintentional and largely unpleasant family trait.
Joey is adopted by the admiring Christian Gaulthier (Gerard Depardieu), a professor at the Sorbonne who it just so happens is both Elsie's idol and her teacher. He doesn't give her the time of day, though, just the sort of sin the brat holds against her dad. Ah, yes, girls pick men just like their fathers. Christian invites Joey and his companion, Lena (Linda Lavin), Joey's lover and assistant, to visit his mother (Micheline Presle) at her country home. This gives Elsie a reason to chase her teacher under the guise of pursuing the father she has rebuked, and also sets off the comedy of errors in which all of Christian's party guests clash, form trysts, and generally get angry with one another. Comic book fans may enjoy seeing the masquerade ball where guests dress as the Spirit, the Spectre, and Tweety Bird, and were Joey really a cartoonist worth his salt, he'd realize that when Christian dressed up as Popeye and Lena dressed up as Olive Oyl, trouble was on the horizon. Given the mixed reaction Feiffer had already gotten for writing Robert Altman's 1980 Popeye movie, he should have also known better. Disaster does strike twice!
There is nothing at all funny about I Want to Go Home. It strains from top to bottom to strike a crazed, screwball tone, but Resnais has no idea how to get there. Most of the acting is over-the-top, and Adolph Green's constant yelling and Laura Benson's shrill whining grates on the ears. Only Gerard Depardieu manages to find a place above the material, bullying his way through the picture as a character who refuses to listen to anyone, who just does as he pleases. The performer does much the same with the movie, pushing his way through each scene, often quite literally going from one end of the set to the other and out again, never letting the absurdity touch him. You've got to give the man credit, he sure is slick.
Given that Resnais wanted to emulate musicals, naturally everyone is happy and reconciled by the end. Easy lessons are learned, preposterous solutions are discovered, and it's all love. Unlike a good Hollywood musical, however, the ending of I Want to Go Home doesn't leave the audience feeling good about the outcome. Truth is, these people are obnoxious and deserve whatever misery befalls them.
By the way, those who might happen upon this DVD and see that Ludivine Sagnier is listed in the credits, don't fall for it. Yes, the actress from Swimming Pool and 8 Women is in I Want to Go Home, but she was ten years old, and if you blink, you'll miss her. Shame on Kino for trying to falsely stimulate the commercial appeal of an unappealing picture by promoting her in the ranks.
Though the I Want to Go Home DVD actually came out in 2008, this copy of the movie was sent out for review in anticipation of Kino's bundling of four of Resnais' 1980s movies into the boxed set Alain Resnais: A Decade in Film. From what I can tell, these are the exact same discs, just now in a box. DVD Savant reviews the set here.