The Revision: Lou! Journal infime

Lou is a preteen (and then teen) girl who is exploring the ups and downs of adolescence — first crushes, mood swings, new and old friendships. Her mother, who had Lou when she was young, is also dealing with her book deadline while she’d rather be playing video games and crushing on the new neighbor in the building.

The cover of Lou! Secret Diary by Julien Neel

Julien Neel’s Lou! is adorably kind and sweet. His artwork is colorful and cartoony — it feels very playful and round, with a lot of dynamic movement that captures the energy of being young. It’s not a surprise Lou! has also been adapted as an animated series because it already feels animated on the page. While the tone is always light, the emotions feel real, though, and that speaks strongly to Neel’s skills. I was surprised at how much I became emotionally invested in Lou’s changing circumstances because I thought I was just reading a fun comic.

Drawn with bangs that hang over her eyes and oversized, round glasses, Lou’s mother is messy and awkward but she’s always allowed to be herself. While at times it does feel like Lou is the more “mature” one, both mother and daughter are quirky oddballs. They have a sweet, loving relationship and it’s great to see a mother and daughter pair that feel united against the world.

When Lou’s best friend, Mina, pulls away from her, choosing to hang out with the more streetwise Karine instead, it’s confusing for Lou but it makes sense in the comic. Mina is Black and of course, she would want to hang out with someone who understands her experience a bit more. Lou, for her part, starts hanging out with the rebellious Mary Emily, who uses her anger to cover up her life of privilege. Eventually, all four become friends. The ever-shifting social relationships feel very authentic to early adolescence.

Lou! Journal infime (2014, directed by Julien Neel) does a good job of capturing the spirit of the first four volumes. It takes plot elements from each and streamlines the story. All the characters here feel a lot like their comic counterparts. While the creator of a work isn’t always the best choice to translate it into a different medium, Neel has a good grasp on comics and film not being the same. He is able to stay true to his comic while still letting the movie be its own creation.

The casting is spot on. Lola Lasserson as Lou is bright and quirky while still letting herself be vulnerable. The rest of the young cast doesn’t have too many additional credits so there’s a feeling of a bunch of kids just hanging out and having fun.

Ludivine Sangier as Lou’s mother is a delight here — she’s unafraid to be over-the-top and goofy while remaining someone who feels real. The movie also gives her a friendship with Mina’s mother so she feels more connected to the rest of the world than she does in the comic. The animated sequences that present her writing her sci-fi Sidera stories are an amazing bonus and her relationship with Richard (Kyan Khojandi) is cute.

I do wish I had felt more invested in Lou’s budding relationship with Tristan (Joshua Mazé), who Lou mostly seems attracted to because he lives across the street. He’s mostly just a floppy-haired boy who doesn’t have a ton of personality. (He doesn’t particularly in the comic, either, though.)

Lou’s apartment is messy and lived-in and the costuming and styling is just about a perfect match to the comic, from her mother’s bangs to Lou’s thrift-store/DIY sense of style.

This is truly a kid’s movie — it’s not rated in the U.S. but I’d say it’s more or less just PG. I can’t think of anything that is objectionable in it (maybe some of the Sidera sequences, but those are more just weird than outright sexy). While it does give space for her mother’s relationship with Richard, it is definitely about Lou and her friends. I liked it the first time I watched it and I still liked it this time, but for all of its fun, I mostly just say it’s “diverting.” It’s not the kind of movie that can be called “great” but it doesn’t need to be.

Admittedly, I felt more emotionally engaged in the comic than I did in the movie but I think that’s just that I find reading comics an intimate, personal experience. Still, though, Lou! Journal infime did what it set out to do and Neel did justice to his comic.