Review: The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

Director: Rémi Bezançon
Screenplay: Rémi Bezançon
Producers: Eric Altmeyer & Nicolas Altmeyer
Starring: Jacques Gamblin, Zabou Breitman, Déborah François, Marc-André Grondin
Year: 2008
Country: France
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 108 min

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life was one of two films I got sent over to review recently that were big winners at last year’s Césars (the second is Seraphine – expect a review in the next week or two). It’s a French comedy-drama that centers around five crucial days in the life of a family of five. Each day focuses mainly on a different individual within the family starting with the day the eldest son leaves home and moving onto subject matter such as the daughter losing her virginity and the mother having a mid-life crisis.

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life is a film that played a bit of a dangerous balancing act for me. At times it was teetering into an abyss of cornball, TV-drama hell and elsewhere it was levelled out by a genuine warmth and light humour that kept it quite engaging throughout. It’s a film that I kept finding faults with, yet repeatedly gave it another chance after redeeming itself with some nice touches along the way. My main problem with it I guess was that the film was full to the brim with clichés. The difficulties facing the family members were ones we’ve seen in films and TV shows over a hundred times in the past. Critical illnesses and accidents can be seen coming a mile off as are family rifts and love interests. With content as predictable and unimaginative as this it’s hard not to think of Hallmark family dramas as you watch, yet the solid performances and fairly breezy presentation did help me accept the fact that ok, these ‘clichés’ are actually commonly occurring events that do have a massive impact on family dynamics.

Another aspect that keeps the film from feeling too much like a soap opera it’s style. It features a lot of pop/rock music quite prominently, mixed with some ‘trendy’ camera and editing techniques. This is clearly done to help the film appeal to a younger audience and it works to an extent, setting itself apart from the clean, flat stylings of the ‘housewife-TV’ of old. However, the music and flashy sequences were not quite hip enough for me, instead just feeling a little dated and annoying at times. There was enough quirkiness here and there though to keep things interesting. An air guitar tournament sequence in particular worked well for me and a simple yet touching moment with an air pillow was surprisingly effective.

That pillow scene is a good example of how the film got away with the over-familiar content actually. Although there were plenty of potentially cheesy scenes such as a hospital bed-side vigil and a crisis of fidelity, they were generally played out with a relative subtlety that kept it all quite believable. Often it did come across as quite smug and a little sappy though and even though the family had some big fights you never got the feeling that they didn’t care for each other or wouldn’t get back together in the end.

All of the contradictory qualities I found with the film (cheesy yet believable, stylish yet dated etc.) make The First Day of the Rest of Your Life an easy film to watch but a difficult one to recommend too highly. If you’re in the mood for a classily made 2 hour soap opera you can do much worse though.