'Paulette' review: Charming character study of a drug dealing racist old lady
The French crime comedy "Paulette" (available on DVD and Blu-ray on Feb. 9) is a classic fish out of water story -- except this fish is an extremely racist old woman who finds herself deep in the world of drug dealing.
In short: Elderly racist, terse and all-around recluse Paulette (Bernadette Lafont) cannot afford to pay her bills on her meager pension - so she turns to her only viable option: dealing drugs. (Watch the trailer)
Paulette is, quite simply, a masterfully crafted bitter old misanthrope. While her racism is shocking, her character is so over-the-top that her vicious barbs are absolutely hilarious. She is next-level grumpy old lady -- Paulette has only the most horrific slurs dole out to her Black son-in-law and she doesn't hesitate to mace another woman while fighting over food. The cantankerous old crone scavenges dumpsters for food and home furnishings, for her dilapidated tenement apartment. Paulette is allowed to be such overtly horrible human being because she is so obviously on the wrong side of every interaction. The audience forgives her for her very apparent flaws because she is an equal opportunity misanthrope - she treats her daughter only marginally better than she treats the Chinese people who took over her late husband's restaurant.
The breezy touch of comedy balances out the film's admittedly brilliantly abominable protagonist as she climbs the ranks of drug dealing. Although Paulette faces the real possibility of being thrown out on the street or meeting the ire of neighborhood drug dealers, the film never stumbles in grim territory. It's actually quite impressive how the story of an aspiring drug dealer - who spouts the most vile racist and xenophobic slurs - can somehow remain a rather light and fun little comedy.
"Paulette" at its best when the film allows the main character to just be a horrible person surrounded by even worse characters. But at some point, the filmmakers realized the "racist old drug dealing granny" premise only lasts so long -- so they slapped together a few forced plot points to wrap up the story. "Paulette" is an entertaining character study of an absurd old woman, but the clunky attempt to wrap the story up in a nice bow sadly undermines the film.
Final verdict: This light little pot comedy is founded on the strength of its titular character -- who is truly a piece of work.
"Paulette" is available on DVD and Blu-ray on Feb. 9. This dramatic comedy is rated R for drug content and language.