‘The French Italian’ Is the Funniest New York Movie in Years

The comedy, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, nails one of the most hilarious aspects of living in the so-called “greatest city in the world.”Published Jun. 06, 2024 10:30PM EDT Courtesy of Tribeca Film FestivalNew Yorkers know that living in the city comes with a certain amount of unavoidable noise. The construction, shouting, car horns, and bumping

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The comedy, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, nails one of the most hilarious aspects of living in the so-called “greatest city in the world.”

Coleman Spilde

People sit on and around couches in a still from ‘The French Italian’

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

New Yorkers know that living in the city comes with a certain amount of unavoidable noise. The construction, shouting, car horns, and bumping bass are obnoxious but relatively small concessions we make to live in the greatest city in the world. But it’s when that noise starts to creep into the home that things become an issue.

When clamor and commotion leak into our living spaces, New Yorkers become even more acutely aware of how much money we’re doling out for rent each month—and don’t even get me started on the fact that you have to take out a small loan just to afford to eat a bowl of cereal. We remember all the subway delays, price hikes, and droplets of sweat that have fallen down our bodies just to get from one place to the next. Our modest apartments have to be the one place where we can forget about all of New York’s worst parts, and that’s a near-impossible task when someone else’s noise makes it impossible to relax.

That dreadful anxiety is drolly recreated in writer-director Rachel Wolther’s debut feature The French Italian, which had its world premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. When Upper West Side yuppie couple Valerie (Cat Cohen) and Doug (Aristotle Athari) find their peace and quiet disturbed by their downstairs neighbor’s new girlfriend, Mary (Chloe Cherry), they’re curious about the situation. They’ve barely even seen Mary’s boyfriend, let alone heard him. But once Mary moves in, glass bongs go flying, backyard arguments echo through the windows, and all-day karaoke becomes the new norm. If all of this weren’t obnoxious enough already, the 200-year-old brownstone that everyone lives in has zero insulation, making every last off-key high note feel like it’s coming from inside Val and Doug’s bedroom.

Like the best screwball comedies, this unfortunate series of events sets off a chain reaction of increasingly absurd proceedings, as Valerie and Doug figure out how to not just put a stop to the noise, but get their revenge. The French Italian takes the couple’s attempts at retaliation to giddily outsized extremes, that are tempered just enough for the film to remain believable. Time and again, Wolther demonstrates that she has her finger on the pulse of cringe millennial behavior, finding novel ways to skewer her peers that don’t fall back on trite self-depreciation. Cohen and Athari are just as game to send up their privileged familiars, and together with Wolther, the trio pierce the inanity of a problem every city-dweller must face, and turn The French Italian into one of the most instantly memorable New York comedies in years.

The noise issue eventually becomes so bad for Valerie and Doug that the two of them give up their beautiful, rent-stabilized apartment to move upstate while they figure out their next move. It’s an undeniably doltish move, as echoed by all of their friends at a party when they recount the story, fashioning themselves as the victims. But instead of politely asking their neighbors to keep it down, the two lovebirds opt for flight over fight. Wendy (future character actor MVP Ruby McCollister)—a friend of a friend who meets Doug and Valerie while they tell their story at the party—is fascinated by their ordeal. She not only has the social media chops to find and stalk Mary’s Instagram, but the chutzpah to reach out to her.

As it turns out, Mary is a young actress looking for work, and Wendy, Doug, and Valerie all hatch a drunken plan to call Mary for a fake audition, where they’ll meet and confront her. But given that Doug and Valerie were already so confrontation-averse when they lived one floor above Mary, they’re barely able to eke out more than a few stilted words from their tormentor, let alone an apology. Wolther does a fantastic job of setting her characters up to look like absolute buffoons while being careful not to pop the bubble of their egomania. Even showing the video of Mary’s audition to friends who can barely muster the strength to laugh along isn’t enough to deflate their self-satisfaction.

Doug and Valerie are riding the high of their prank, but become desperate to take it further. Before they know it, Wendy has booked a private space to rehearse this fake play that Mary was supposedly auditioning for, and the triad of conceited New Yorkers are ready to turn their practical joke into a full-blown piece of self-reflexive theater. For all of the big steps that Wolther takes to get her characters to this stage—and the stage—the movement toward their ultimate endgame feels completely natural. Nobody moves to New York without making some extra space for a bigger head, and Valerie and Doug’s sudden sprint toward becoming playwrights is entirely in-line with the cockiness that so many artists are armed with as they move about the city.

While Wolther milks her clever premise for all the jokes it’s worth, much of The French Italian’s humor is derived from Wendy, Valerie, and Doug’s individual neuroses. For a 90-minute comedy, there’s an impressive amount of specific character writing baked into its script. Valerie and Doug are keenly written as the archetypal Upper West Side young couple, right down to their obsession with Zabar’s, which plays a pivotal role in the naming of their play. And while Wolther’s screenplay is just a tad more impressive than her directorial flair, there are notable gags to back up this fledgling talent, like when Doug and Valerie spot a rat on their block, jump out of frame to avoid it, and the camera swerves too, bringing us along in their fear.

Little touches like these transform this unpretentious comedy (about very pretentious people) into a film that is as uniquely confident as any big studio comedy to hit theaters in recent years. The French Italian works up to its delightfully ludicrous grand finale with a steady pace, keeping the jokes flying as each member of its ensemble cast earns their time in the proverbial and literal spotlights. Nothing is so joyful as watching every character get their eventual comeuppance, except maybe the arrival of an assured, noteworthy new comedic voice in Wolther. Though her shrewdly written characters might be unlikeable, The French Italian never is. This is a comedy worth making so much noise over that you simply won’t care who hears it.

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