The Revision: Joséphine

The title character of Joséphine is a 30-something single woman navigating career, family, and her love life. Originally created for the Swiss Femina magazine, Pénélope Bagieu’s comic isn’t necessarily treading any unexpected ground, but it tackles its subjects with playful humor.

Cover of Joséphine by Pénélope Bagieu

While the comic does become a bit more serialized as it progresses, most of the punchlines come at the end of each page. You don’t have to know too much to follow the story — it’s easy to jump in anywhere. While many of Joséphine’s concerns are obvious ones — about her body, her jealousy over her sister’s perfect life — they’re also relatable. The comic first appeared in 2008 so some of the things do feel a bit dated (her cat is named Brad Pitt, for instance), but learning to navigate life is always going to be universal.

Bagieu also lends great comedic timing to the comic. One sequence has Joséphine rattling off a series of increasingly preposterous excuses as to why she hasn’t gone to the gym. Her art is colorful and exaggerated, with Joséphine’s oversized head and broad facial expressions. It’s not going to be a comic that sticks with you overall, but it’s a lot of lighthearted fun.

So of course Joséphine (2013, directed by Agnès Obadia) was an obvious choice for a live-action rom-com. Everything is right there already, after all. Much like the comic, it’s not anything you wouldn’t already expect, but with charming performances, especially from Marilou Berry as the lead, and a kind heart toward its characters, it’s adorable.

While some things are pulled directly from the comic, such as Joséphine wanting to get liposuction because she thinks her butt is too big, mostly it takes the general relationships and expands on them in an original story. Joséphine, feeling like a failure after her most recent relationship disappointment, makes up a lie that she’s engaged to a Brazilian surgeon. As things do, this lie spirals out of control, and while her friends think she’s in Brazil, she’s actually secretly staying in her own apartment that’s being sublet to her coworker, Gilles (Mehdi Nebbou).

Yes, that’s typical rom-com shenanigans, certainly (and it’s odd that Gilles never quite figured out she was there, especially when she stumbled in drunk one night) but his movie has the sweetness to pull it off. Joséphine isn’t as nearly hapless as a lot of rom-com heroines are made out to be and much of her problem is just her own insecurity. Her slow realization that Gilles, a man she never really thought much of, is actually the man of her dreams, is cute and I really found myself rooting for these two oddballs.

The production values are spot-on, matching the colorfulness and quirkiness of the comic. Joséphine’s apartment feels lived-in and cozy, with mismatched furniture, and her wardrobe matches her big personality. It’s aspirational — it’s a rom-com, after all — but in a way that feels achievable, and I appreciated that.

Some of the subplots don’t quite land. Sure, it’s good Joséphine realized that her sister, Diane (Alice Pol) doesn’t have a picture-perfect life after all, but some of that feels like a distraction that doesn’t really matter. There are also bits of humor that don’t work (a character’s dog is accidentally poisoned and that’s never actually going to be funny), but these are small flaws for an otherwise delightful movie.

It also obeys one of my rom-com rules that all the great ones need a musical/dance sequence. This also has a costume party, which is also always a benefit to a rom-com.

There is a version out there with English subtitles but I couldn’t find that one this time around so I watched this in French with French subtitles. I had seen it before (although it’s been a while) so I knew the major plot points, but I was still impressed with how much I could understand (I have been slowly learning French for two years now). I do, however, wish this was more widely available to English-speaking audiences so I could recommend it to more people.

A sequel, Joséphine S’arrondit (Joséphine, Pregnant and Fabulous), this time directed by Berry, was released in 2016. I will write about that on my Patreon.