In Bed with Victoria
February 3, 2022
1 Hr., 37 Mins.
n Bed with Victoria (2016) is a provocative hoodwink of a title. Its eponymous character’s sex life isn’t the film’s focus at all: the script actually puts it in the periphery — makes it a troubled subplot. (The gist is that Victoria’s just not in the mood these days.) It’s another problem, of many, beleaguering our lead. This take-no-prisoners lawyer played by Virginie Efira lives a life that’s mostly just a collection of stressors
with no relief, and she’s nearing a breaking point.
Victoria is a single mother of two little girls, though is so preoccupied with work that her apartment has basically morphed into a slouchy playpen she never has time to pick up. Her mothering has become practically nonexistent; she leaves mostly everything to hired help. Her ex (Laurent Poitrenaux) is a popular blogger who’s recently begun writing thinly-veiled “fiction” about Victoria that mostly paints a deeply unflattering — and potentially professionally ruinous — portrait of her. He doesn't even have the bare-minimum decency of poeticizing her alleged sleeping with judges and exclusively defending sociopaths. And after his “stark-raving mad” wife accuses him of sexually assaulting and stabbing her, Victoria’s old friend Vincent (Melvil Poupaud) begs her to defend him. Which Victoria hesitantly does, right up until she’s essentially cornered by a witness. Victoria dislodges just enough information about the case to get herself banned from practicing law for six months midway through the movie. She does not handle it well.
In Bed with Victoria — just called Victoria in its native France — is meant to be a feature-length comedown after a too-long-and-too-high high. After years of moving at a lightning pace, chasing after every pleasure and chance at professional ascension, Victoria spends almost all of the movie exhausted. She’s forced to do at least a little reexamining because she’s noticing in her late-30s that hogging the fast lane all the time is wearing her down.
You might be surprised to hear that In Bed with Victoria, written and directed by Justine Triet, is also overarchingly a romantic comedy. The love interest is Sam (Vincent Lacoste), a former client of Victoria’s who reconnects with her at a wedding. He’s looking for work (drug dealing is out of the question now), and because Victoria’s last go-to babysitter quit because they felt too much like a full-time parent, is soon hired by the woman who once represented him as a last-ditch live-in nanny. Sam is at first mostly just an understanding friend and sounding board. Sometimes he even suggests an estranged baby brother, with his cartoonishly big glasses and a 15-year age difference making him seem practically boyish. Then he almost abruptly becomes something more when another night’s offering of a sympathetic ear unexpectedly becomes a turn-on.
I’ve seen the movie analogized sometimes to a classic Katherine Heigl vehicle. The kind of thing á la Knocked Up (2008) where a guarded blonde workaholic is loosened up a bit by both life-exploding circumstances and, more bearably, movie love. But I’d say the closer American counterpart to In Bed with Victoria
is probably Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck. Released the year before, that hit romantic comedy (and lesser film) had a similarly refreshing inclination to first be interested in offering us a fascinatingly messy, at times morally contradictory, female character largely unseen in the romantic comedy. A chance at potentially lasting love snuck in, though that almost seemed trite compared to just watching its lead improvise through life and flounder much of the time.
Slightly refining the rom-com formula to make it a smidge more realistic doesn’t alleviate the mostly very fun, and convincingly sincere where it counts, In Bed with Victoria from some issues. The romantic subplot is a little underwhelming: Sam is primarily a sponge with a puppyish pout. And the courtroom scenes, already a bit questionably positioned as comedy because of how much they hinge on proving a possible victim of sexual violence a liar, are additionally farcical in a way that feels out of step with the rest of the film. Key witnesses at the trial include, if you can believe it, a possessive pet Dalmation and a selfie-taking monkey. But Efira is so commanding in the part, yo-yoing from brusque assertiveness, dark funniness, and all-on-the-table vulnerability, that you know immediately that wherever she goes you’ll want to be there too. In Bed with Victoria is a movie where the character that gives it its reason for being is better than the film itself. That isn’t much of a sell, but believe me: Efira does something special. B+