The Movie Waffler Dublin International Film Festival 2019 Review - FAMILY FIRST | The Movie Waffler

Dublin International Film Festival 2019 Review - FAMILY FIRST

family first review
A young man attempts to remove himself and his mentally challenged brother from his mobster uncle's influence.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sophie Dupuis

Starring: Théodore Pellerin, Jean-Simon Leduc, Paul Ahmarani, Maude Guérin, Marjo

family first poster

With her feature debut, writer/director Sophie Dupuis takes a very generic storyline - that of a criminal attempting to extricate himself from his life of crime - and adds a sibling relationship torn from the pages of Of Mice and Men. So yeah, it's basically a Quebecois remake of The Pope of Greenwich Village, one which miraculously features a performance even more over the top than the one Eric Roberts infamously delivered in that movie.

family first review

Twentysomething JP (Jean-Simon Leduc) is stuck in a rut. He lives in a crowded home in a working class Montreal suburb with his mother, Joe (Maude Guérin), his mentally challenged teenage brother, Vincent (Théodore Pellerin), and his girlfriend, Mel (Claude Laberge). While putting himself through engineering college, JP works as an enforcer for his drug dealing uncle, Dany (Paul Ahmarani), roughing up customers who fall behind on their payments.

JP is one of those classic movie mobsters with a heart of gold. At one point he's asked to beat up a single mother, and refuses when he realises her kids are at home. The violently erratic Vincent has no such qualms however, and will do anything to impress Dany. When JP turns down his uncle's request to assassinate a rival drug dealer, Dany hints that Vincent will be glad to take on the task. Unwilling to see his kid brother sucked further into a life of crime, JP struggles to find a way for his family to escape Dany's hold.

family first review

The gangster genre is a bit like the western - with such a lack of variance in storylines, it all boils down to what a filmmaker has to say through their characters and setting. In Dupuis' case, the voice of a creator is sorely absent, with practically nothing on offer here we haven't seen in countless mob movies. It's rare to find a gangster drama directed by a woman, so it's disappointing how Dupuis sidelines the women in her story, with Mel and Joe poorly drawn stereotypes - the unhappy girlfriend and the alcoholic mother.

With his Oscar Isaac matinee idol looks, Leduc makes for a striking leading man, and he makes up for some of the deficiencies in Dupuis' script with an understated performance that sells JP's frustrations with his lot in life that are eating away at his soul. In one of the movie's most insightful scenes, Vincent starts a fight in a bar, knowing his brother will come to his aid. As Vincent's face takes a battering, Dupuis keeps her camera focussed on JP as he weighs up whether he should intervene or let his younger brother take a beating and learn a lesson, and we can see the distress eating away at JP in the moment. It says more about the relationship between JP and his family than any of the film's many shouty confrontations.

family first review

Pellerin's performance is so manic that many viewers may struggle to stay on board with the film. His Vincent is so utterly obnoxious that it's impossible to care about him in the way the film requires you to. Vincent is a violent thug who will happily beat women if it's asked of him, and he has a creepy incestuous lust towards his mother. He has no redeeming features, and the idea that we should feel sympathy for him simply because of his mental condition is incredibly patronising. With a few adjustments to Vincent's character, Family First may have been a compelling, if derivative crime drama, but the insufferable Pellerin will have you wishing JP would tell his brother to "Look at the rabbits."

A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2019 movie reviews