Sitcom | Chicago Reader

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In Francois Ozon's calculatedly outrageous black comedy, a father who seldom knows best brings home a pet white rat, and inexplicably each member of his happy clan is mysteriously transformed by it. Not that the family is particularly normal to begin with, unless being stereotypical to the point of self-parody can be considered the norm. The depressive father uses maddeningly vapid aphorisms to avoid all involvement, while the maniacally cheerful mother can adapt to almost anything. When guests fail to show for dinner, she invites the Spanish maid, who appears in evening gown and ermine, black husband in tow; almost immediately the mother is ready to embrace both as part of the family. The daughter (Marina de Van, almost as disquieting a presence here as she was in Ozon's See the Sea) is the first to succumb to the rat's psychic energy, quickly falling prey to every psychological disorder known to womankind, from melancholia to hysterical paralysis to sadomasochism, and her stalwart fiance is as ready with whips and chains as he'd been with candy and flowers. Next the son metamorphoses from uptight, studious nerd into gay, orgy-throwing gadfly. Unfortunately, the film's strength—its vision of the bourgeoisie as the class that can smilingly incorporate any contradiction—is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the film loses its ability to shock long before the final fade-out. None of the other characters is as dead-on as the mother, and their permutations don't elicit the same gleeful recognition. Yet Ozon's focus and timing are such that nothing lasts too long—everything is trotted on and off with commendable economy. After all, sitcom, not soap opera, was his inspiration.

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