Sometimes you see a trailer of a movie and thought, ‘we’ve seen something like this before’ and that’s how I felt about The Valet. I had just seen Marry Me, where an ordinary, usually-invisible guy gets unwittingly roped into a high-stake ruse to avert a PR nightmare. This time it involves a famous movie star Olivia Allan (Samara Weaving) whose new movie is about to come out and she gets caught by paparazzi bickering with her married boyfriend Vincent (Max Greenfield). Somehow they snapped a shot of valet Antonio Flores (Eugenio Derbez) in the background, so he ends up being hired to pose as Olivia’s lover to cover up the affair. It so happens that Vincent’s wife Kathryn (Betsy Brandt) is a billionaire so Vincent stands to lose his company if she divorces him.
Right from the start, the movie introduces us to a very likable character in Antonio. He’s a good-natured man, a doting dad of a teenage son who lives with his mother after being recently separated from his wife. He enjoys his simple life in his neighborhood in the not-so-glamorous part of LA that’s also facing gentrification thanks to Vincent’s company’s ambitious expansion. His life can’t be more different from Olivia who’s an ambitious actress and executive producer, whose new movie of her playing Emilia Earhart will make and break her new production company. It’s a simple farcical story that could’ve been oh-so predictable, but The Valet not only subverts the rom-com genre but also has some genuine heartfelt messages about family, honesty, friendship, and being proud of one’s own heritage.
I’ve been a fan of Derbez since seeing him as the wonderful music teacher in Oscar-winning CODA. He’s got such an effortlessly likable presence, warm charisma, and adept comic timing, a perfect mix for an uplifting, heartfelt, funny story that has more than a few teachable moments up its sleeve. I love that his character is not the stereotypical Mexican immigrant who lives a life of crime and often get in trouble with the law. Antonio is an honest guy, perhaps even too honest, and the movie brings up how he has an excellent credit score that the private investigator finds hard to believe. The movie also strives to dispel the womanizing Latin Lover trope with Antonio being rather squeamish about sex as he could barely listen to his mom’s torrid tale of her newly-found sex live, ha!
This is the first time I saw Samara Weaving in anything but I remember seeing her in the trailer for Ready or Not that our horror correspondent Laura rated highly. I’m quite impressed with her performance here. Like Derbez, there’s a likable quality about her that makes you root for her despite her flaws. The two has a good rapport and both have pretty good comic timing. There are touches of Notting Hill here as well with the hapless Antonio feeling ‘invisible’ in his own world, but much less hapless than Hugh Grant’s character and I like the fact that Antonio is quite happy with his life and not at all envious of the rich and famous.
Directed by Richard Wong, The Valet is apparently a remake of a French movie of the same name starring Gad Elmaleh. I think writers Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg did a good job in placing the story in LA with a Mexican valet, which presents plenty of opportunities for showcasing the Latin roots and familial themes that the movie doesn’t squander. The diverse casting is wonderful all around, even mixing South Korean and Mexican families together in the form of Antonio’s mom Cecilia (Carmen Salinas) dating her landlord/lover Mr. Kim (Ji Yong Lee). It’s a testament to Wong’s direction that the whole thing doesn’t come off as forced or dubious, it was actually pretty hilarious. I also commend that even the smallest supporting character such as Natalie, the owner of a bicycle shop in Antonio’s neighborhood (Diany Rodriguez), his ex-wife (Marisol Nichols), as well as Vincent’s assistant/handler (Alex Fernandez) all have a role to play in the protagonists’ journey. Even Kathryn gets to deliver Vincent’s well-deserved comeuppance.
One thing I wish the movie did better is in the pacing and editing. At over 2 hours long, I think it could’ve been trimmed a bit and still gotten the message across. I like some of the scenes of Antonio and his fellow valet friends but some went on a bit too long and repetitive. The subplot involving the two private investigators definitely could be cut out as they don’t really add much to the story.
Overall I enjoy this movie and highly recommend this even to those who are normally not into rom-coms. It’s nice to see the good guys win for a change, even if it’s not the kind of perfect ‘happy ending’ one would expect in a rom-com. Sometimes a remake can work well in a new setting and this is a prime example of taking a familiar story and improving on it. The Valet is a quintessential crowd-pleaser and feel-good movie that’s genuinely heartfelt and funny.