A rocky marriage of believable performances and groan-inducing pop psychology, My King is the sort of movie where its flaws cancel out some of its virtues—a drama about an attraction between incompatible opposites that seems to be fighting itself all the way to the end credits. The opposites in question are Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot, who won Best Actress at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival for the role) and Georgio (Vincent Cassel). They meet on the dance floor of a nightclub; she’s a lawyer and he’s an impetuous restaurateur, which all but fates them to eventually throw accusations and broken dishware at each other. The decade-spanning story of their crappy codependent relationship is told in flashback, as Tony recuperates from a broken leg at a beachside clinic, learning (literally) to walk on her own again.
There are plenty more bromides and parallels between physical and emotional healing where that came from. Like actor-turned-director Maïwenn’s last film, Polisse (co-written by Bercot), My King is overlong and overheated, suggesting a filmmaker who’s better at getting actors to yell at each other than at judging what’s essential. But here, there’s no professional milieu to explore, no genre mechanic to lend it a whiff of urgency—just another go at the storied cinematic tradition of French people in broken relationships. Georgio tends to do whatever he wants, which is really charming when it doesn’t involve drugs, model ex-girlfriends, or renting a second apartment; Tony should know better but keeps going along, like an addict trying to repeat that first, unparalleled high.
They will marry and even have a kid, and he will bully her and sweet-talk her (drawing on Cassel’s considerable reserves of roguish charm) until she hits emotional rock bottom—and a rock, because everything here is literal—and gets the gumption to break free. As is often the case, the model for this wild emoting is John Cassavetes, except that Maïwenn doesn’t have the late, great independent’s depth or gift for nuance or drama—or, for that matter, his control of style and structure. My King’s take on relationships is deterministic. The collapse of the relationship may come down to Georgio’s selfishness and Tony’s anxiety, but it could just as easily be a question of astrological signs. At its worst, it brings to mind the unedited first-draft manuscript of an inspirational memoir.
There are parts of the film that are intriguing on their own, including the framing scenes at the physical rehabilitation clinic, where Tony befriends a group of teenagers; these are the only scenes that necessitate the wide-screen format, since they’re also the only ones to make any use of background or space. And there’s a scene-stealing turn from Louis Garrel (who’s played his own share of shitty significant others) as Tony’s deadpan comic-relief brother, and fine actorly moments from both of the leads. But the emphasis is on quantity over quality. The movie exhausts the dynamic between Tony and Georgio, but keeps going on and on, clumsily, like an argument that won’t end, sometimes repeating itself at a louder volume.