French Comedy What's in a Name? Makes Parents Bickering Over Baby Names Surprisingly Tolerable

Patrick Bruel in What's in a Name?
Patrick Bruel in What's in a Name?

What's in a name, when that name is Adolphe? Four characters at a dinner party — a fortysomething married couple and the wife's lifelong friend and brother — debate that very question for half an hour when one of them, soon-to-be father Vincent (Patrick Bruel), announces that it will be the name of his future child.

"My son will be a great guy," boasts Vincent. "He'll beat fascism. He'll break Hitler's monopoly [over that name]." The arrival of little Adolphe's mother (Judith El Zein) instigates another half-hour debate, this time about whether Élisabeth and Pierre (Valérie Benguigui and Charles Berling), the married couple, were too precious in naming their children Apollin and Myrtille.

The premise of parents attacking each other for their taste in baby names sounds yawningly self-indulgent, even downright stupid. Yet the French chamber dramedy What's in a Name is frequently delightful, full of ribald humor and compelling, intelligent debate. (One joke about fetal alcohol syndrome is a standout, while another comparing coming out as gay to confessing to dog murder somehow avoids offensiveness.)


What's in a Name?
Written and directed by Alexandre de La Patellire and Matthieu Delaporte
Under the Milky Way
Opens December 13, Cinema Village
Available on demand

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The excellent cast, rounded out by Guillaume de Tonquedec as a family friend with a secret that threatens the group's trust in one another, knows just where to breathe to keep the rat-a-tat dialogue from becoming tiresome.

It's only when directors Alexandre de La Patellière and Matthieu Delaporte aim for something more conventional in the third act — an unearthing of buried resentments — that the film loses its momentum. When the yelling begins, the fun stops.

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