Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
(French with English subtitles)
Directed by: Patrice Leconte
Written by: Patrice Leconte
(based on the novel THE SUICIDE SHOP by Jean Teule)
Voices of: Bernard Alane, Isabelle Spade, Kacey Mottet Klein, Isabelle Giam & Laurent Gendron
There shouldn’t be a huge mystery surrounding possibilities of why THE SUICIDE SHOP has not landed distribution in the USA yet. The colorful storybook-esque drawings may give the impression of animated family entertainment, but as the title suggests, this is far from a kid’s film. This 2012 French dark comedy is full swearing, a bit of nudity, and not to mention countless people offing themselves both in public and private. There’s no easy way to review a film that’s bound for inevitable controversy, because the movie is going to offend a lot of sensibilities. If you have a morbid sense of humor (like I do), there are minor grim laughs to be had in this otherwise disappointing film that never takes advantage of the absurd premise.
In a bleak future, life has become so depressing that the only joy anyone experiences usually comes at the expense of offing themselves. It is here that Mishima Tuvache and his family (wife, daughter, and son) have taken a monetary advantage. They run a deadly store, known as The Suicide Shop, that offers all sorts of instruments with which one might kill themselves. These include (but are not limited to) nooses, poison, razor blades and even more obscure methods (hara-kiri being one of them). Life is perfectly miserable for Mishima and that’s very good for business until his wife gives birth to Alan. This youngest son smiles, brings happiness to those around him and appreciates life, which leads to a family struggle that could change the Tuvache family business forever and the depressed citizens’ bleak outlook on the world.
The elephant in the room must be discussed. This animated comedy tackles the horrible subject of suicide and is a musical as well. This isn’t to say that it jests at those who take their own lives. In fact, it goes in quite the opposite direction. This is especially seen in a subplot involving Mishima becoming seriously depressed after witnessing one of his poisonous products in action. The act of suicide isn’t treated too lightly as we see that it has serious consequences, but there are pieces of severe dark humor to be had. The Tuvache family resemble a French version of the Addams Family. Though there are sure to be those offended by this film and that’s totally understandable, it doesn’t go out of its way to be especially cruel or revel in bad taste.
The animation (originally intended for 3D) looks impressive. It’s as if someone opened a particularly morbid children’s book that went off the deep end. I enjoyed how beautiful the film looked and the gloomy atmosphere that was present through most of the movie, but the story isn’t fleshed out enough to back up the visual quality. To say that the plot never reaches its full potential would be an understatement as important things are merely glossed over. Case in point, Alan’s ways of making people feel better usually come from either smiling at them or playing upbeat music. Apparently, that’s all anybody in the city needed to change their attitude and that feels incredibly cheap. The same can be said of the ever diminishing sense of humor. The film opened with a handful of solid jokes (including a pigeon’s peril-filled flight through a city full of corpses) and these all but disappear about halfway through the film. It’s not as if there’s a believable emotion or creative plot to make up for absent laughs either.
What I said about the jokes can also be doubled for the musical numbers. It seems odd that the decision was even made to play SUICIDE SHOP out as a musical in the first place, but there are two really solid songs at the beginning of this film that made me really excited to see what others lay ahead. After those two numbers, the rest of the songs become bland, forgettable, useless or just plain tone-deaf. I did really love those opening two tunes, but I can’t say a nice thing about the rest of them (especially a corny number that closes off the film).
THE SUICIDE SHOP is a woefully underwhelming experience made even more frustrating in the premise being so damned insane and original. The tone fails to mix macabre humor and a Disney-ish execution. It’s almost as if director/writer Patrice Leconte, adapting Jean Teule’s novel, was afraid to go all the way with the darkly comedic material. The end result comes off as a mere shrug-inducing disappointment. If you’re going to take a cool premise and do nothing creative with it, why bother with that premise in the first place?