“I earn money…I meet people…I can pay my debts…I can buy nice things for myself.”
Taken at face value, all of those pursuits sound totally admirable, especially when you consider that the person earning that money, meeting those new people, and buying those nice things is a bitter old woman who slowly comes out of her caustic shell. I mean, the only minor hiccup here is that Paulette — the title character in this wacky, soufflé-light French comedy — turns her miserable life around by selling drugs.
“I want to sell drugs.”
Paulette (Bernadette Lafont) is down on her luck and fed up with the world. She’s been that way ever since her husband Francis (Dominique Gras) died on 9/11. Ten years later, Paulette can’t pay her bills and is seemingly mad at everyone in the world. She terrorizes the owners of the Chinese restaurant that replaced her former business. Paulette also disapproves of the fact that her daughter Agnes (Axelle Laffont) married a black policeman named Ousmane (Jean-Baptiste Anoumon); she has a much bigger problem with the “black” part than the “policeman” part.
After her phone service is cut off, and her TV and furniture are seized, Paulette hits rock bottom. She finds an unexpected spark of inspiration after spotting a young hoodlum dealing drugs in her rough neighborhood. Paulette does a bit of research by surreptitiously pumping Ousmane for information, and eventually approaches neighborhood big wig Vito (Paco Boublard) about dealing drugs. Naturally, Vito laughs her off at first, but he gives her an opportunity after she persists. Following a rough start, Paulette proves to be a natural at dealing hashish. In fact, she becomes a little too good, attracting the attention of Vito’s unhinged boss and an increasingly suspicious Ousmane.
Paulette begins with a clever little head fake, showing a lovely montage of the life Paulette and Francis built together. (Think a shorter, live-action version of the opening sequence from Up) It makes Paulette’s comically depressing life in the present day — well, 2011 — a surprising punchline. The problem is that her bigotry feels somewhat outta leftfield; we never get a great justification for Paulette’s extreme xenophobia. (Francis’ death on 9/11 is…not quite what you’d expect.) In other words, it’s just a reason for the character to say shocking things and earn some easy laughs. Fortunately, an early scene inside a confessional sets a breezy tone for the film, which includes casually tossed-off zingers like, “You deserve to be white.”
The movie is directed by Jerome Enrico, who also wrote the script with Laurie Aubanel, Bianca Olsen, and Cyril Rambour. At times, you can tell that (at least) four different people had a hand in writing this film. The tone in this brisk, 87-minute movie is consistently light, but there’s also a scene where Paulette is roughly assaulted by some of the young neighborhood punks. There are also a few storylines and characters that don’t fully mesh with the rest of the action, like a senior citizen lothario (Andre Penvern) who lives across the way from Paulette and sets his sights on her. There’s also some inconsistency in the idea that Paulette has enough business savvy to succeed wildly at selling hash…but is dumb enough to suddenly buy herself a bunch of things she shouldn’t be able to afford without coming up with a satisfactory explanation.
But those are all relatively minor quibbles in what is a consistently funny comedy with an undercurrent of loneliness. Lafont is pretty terrific as the tough-talking title character; you don’t have to speak French to pick up on the disdain in her voice when she hurls insults. Even though Paulette eventually softens, Lafont makes the change feel gradual and believable, especially during her interactions with biracial grandson Leo (Ismael Drame). Along those same lines, Anoumon’s affable, initially-dopey work as Ousmane eventually gives way to the character figuring out what Paulette is up to. I also enjoyed Paulette’s interactions with her three friends/card-playing companions (played by Carmen Maura, Dominique Lavanant, and Francoise Bertin), who respond in a refreshing manner when they find out what Paulette is up to.
The ending — which puts a loved one in peril before a pat resolution — is a little underwhelming, but it only falls flat because the slight, frequently funny Paulette isn’t meant to be taken too seriously.
Paulette is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 21 mbps. The movie actually begins with a nice little fakeout; we get old-timey footage of Paulette and Francis’ courtship, along with their life together. That idyllic opening quickly gives way to the drab palette that dominates the majority of the movie. Even the colors in Paulette’s new clothes (after she makes some money) are somewhat muted. Even so, this is an exceedingly clean (if unremarkable) presentation with earthy tones and pleasing texture on display.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French track is as dialogue-heavy as you’d expect from a comedy, but also packs a surprising wallop. In addition to the hive of activity that is Paulette’s neighborhood — particularly the makeshift marketplace where she peddles her popular wares — the sounds in her creaky building are granted some oomph. That includes the slamming of her apartment door (which adds to the gag every time she closes the door in someone’s face) and the barely-functional elevator, which feels like an amusement park ride from hell during the brief seconds we spend in there. Otherwise, this is as dialogue-centric as I alluded to earlier. The track also has fine clarity, which serves Michel Ochowiak’s score rather well. There is no English-language dub.
All of bonus material is presented in HD.
Deleted Scenes: (9:16) These 10 scenes include a flashback to the death of Paulette’s husband. We also get to see a certain event involving cockroaches and the Chinese food restaurant that is only alluded to in the theatrical cut. The last two chapters are extended, inessential bits that give actresses Carmen Maura and Dominique Lavanant a chance to do some improv. The scenes are presented as a single entry on the Special Features menu, but you can skip from chapter to chapter.
2015 Theatrical Trailer
Paulette does incorporate some keen observations about how senior citizens are underestimated and can be invisible to most people, but it’s mostly a silly, thoroughly entertaining way to pass the time. Check this out if you ever wondered what a senior version of Weeds (that didn’t WAY overstay its welcome) would look like.