Samara Weaving and Eugenio Derbez in The Valet (Photos: Hulu & Lionsgate)
By Matt Brunson
★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Richard Wong
STARS Eugenio Derbez, Samara Weaving
A remake of a frothy French film that played our shores 15 years ago, The Valet is a rom-com with a lot on its mind. Even as it focuses on the usual storyline involving mistaken identities (a comic staple at least since the days of Fred and Ginger), it also touches upon culture clashes, socioeconomic disparities, familial harmony, community outreach, the immigrant experience, the power of the paparazzi, and the downside of gentrification. With so much at play, it’s no wonder the movie clocks in at 125 minutes, a generous run time for this type of picture — by comparison, the original is only 85 minutes, a full 40 ticks shorter than this new version.
Yet what’s surprising about The Valet 2.0 is that it wears its length — and its sundry topics — well. Thanks to an energetic script and a number of delightful performances, it never outstays its welcome. That’s not to say every issue is successfully tackled — the gentrification subplot is occasionally handled in clumsy fashion — but it ultimately delivers on the raison d’etre of any rom-com: a satisfactory mix of laughs and love.
Eugenio Derbez, currently appearing in the Apple TV+ series Acapulco (recently reviewed here), stars as Antonio Flores, a meek valet who’s separated from his wife Isabel (Marisol Nichols) and living with his mother Cecilia (Carmen Salinas, who passed away last year at the age of 82). Antonio parks the cars at a trendy Beverly Hills restaurant, but it’s after hours when he bumps into movie star Olivia Allan (Samara Weaving) — literally, as his bike slams into her parked limo. It turns out that Olivia is having a clandestine affair with a married man, smarmy developer Vincent Royce (Max Greenfield, one of the creeps in 2020’s best picture, Promising Young Woman), and the accident allows a tabloid photographer to snap a photo of them together.
Yet as fate would have it, the hapless Antonio is also in the photo, and to avoid a scandal (and a divorce), Vincent and his lawyer (Alex Fernandez) decide that Antonio and Olivia should pretend to be lovers and that Vincent is the one who accidentally ended up in the shot. A reluctant Antonio is hired to take part in the cover-up, and although he and the pampered and neurotic Olivia hail from different worlds, they become unlikely friends. Everyone else, meanwhile, wonders why a beautiful movie star would be dating a member of the lowly working class.
It’s the sort of goofball hijinks that has powered many an effervescent comedy, yet director Richard Wong and scripters Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg refuse to remain on the surface. This is a movie deep with feeling, with the emotional vibrancy brought to life through well-developed characters and the actors inhabiting them. Antonio’s mother is dating their building’s elderly Korean landlord (Ji Yong Lee), and I daresay I haven’t seen a relationship quite like this one before on the screen. Antonio’s bond with his mom is lovingly crafted, and his scenes opposite his estranged wife are believably knotty. Then there are his engaging outings with Olivia, who takes him to the premiere of her new movie about Amelia Earhart but finds herself preferring to hang out with his extended family.
The attention to character detail extends to all corners of the movie, from Antonio’s fellow valets (an amusing bunch) to the pair of sad-sack photographers hired to keep tabs on Antonio and Olivia. I especially liked the character of Vincent’s savvy lawyer, a decent guy who understands all the angles of the scandalous situation even better than the actual participants.
So will Antonio take the opposites-attract route and end up with Olivia, or will he and his wife reconcile? Let’s just say his romantic journey encounters plenty of detours before arriving at its chosen — and perhaps unexpected — destination.
(The Valet is now streaming on Hulu.)