This French anthology of comic shorts on the theme of infidelity is an embarrassing misuse of Jean Dujardin's manifold screen charms.
Sexist posters for The Players were replaced in the run-up to the Oscars amid fears that they could damage lead actor Jean Dujardin’s chances of winning for The Artist. The film itself doesn’t get far beyond this, piggybacking atop a host of lazy caricatures and crass, reductive plotlines.
Composed as a series of vignettes looking at why and how men cheat (note: apparently, only men who cheat), it sends Dujardin and his partner in crime, Gilles Lellouche, down some markedly shallow narrative avenues, gleaning only the most superficial moments of authenticity and resonance.
Dujardin appears in all the short stories, demonstrating flashes of the golden charm that saw him through The Artist. Still, it doesn't help that all of the side-characters feel heavy-handed ciphers. Bookended by the tale of two shitbag career cheaters, Fred (Dujardin) and Greg (Lellouche), their segment boasts the most uncomfortable sex scene since Shame. And not in a good way.
It's easy to wonder what has happened to director Michel Hazanavicius since The Artist, since his section starring Dujardin as a frustrated corporate bore looking for sexual adventure at a work conference is flat and dull. Oddly, the film that revolves around a mutual sharing of confessions between Dujardin and his real-life spouse, Alexandra Lamy, seems the least convincing of all despite its attempts to stay in harsh reality.
Eric Lartigau’s vignette, Lolita, shows Lellouche at his best as a man who can’t handle his teenage lover, but it rings entirely false as a representation of ‘youth’. Guillaume Canet is underused as an earnest, preppy cheater who features in the briefest and most slapstick of the films before saving the comic ensemble scene, Infidèles Anonymes, featuring the brilliant Sandrine Kiberlain.
While it very, very occasionally reaches joyful irreverence and identifiable humanity, The Players is haphazardly cavalier and singularly fails say anything new. It cobbles together all the stereotypes around gender (climaxing on a bemusingly unpleasant note regarding male psychosexuality), adds a couple on Frenchness and leaves the distinct impression that is makers are huge fans of the (bad) Carry On… films.
With the dream pairing of Dujardin and Hazanavicius, how wrong can it go?
Tedious, superficial and often sexist. Just have an affair instead.