3 outta 5
The Valet is something of an anti-romantic comedy. While it follows the general shape of Notting Hill, the commoner falls for a movie star romantic comedy flick, the twist here is it’s a publicity stunt and the two main characters really don’t seem destined, or even right, for each other. Both leads put in fun performances as there are some interesting gags about celebrity obsessed culture and lots of insider moviemaking references. The first half of the film is way cynical and therefore way more funny as it gets a bit mopey in the second half. Also, it’s basically two hours long which is way too long for romantic comedies which usually clock in at around 90 minutes. Overall, there are some fun culture clash and Hollywood antics for a breezy, enjoyable time.
Antonio (Eugenio Derbez) is working as a valet, hoping he can reconnect with his ex-wife, Isabel (Marisol Nichols). One night he accidentally crashes his bike into a bickering couple, Vincent (Max Greenfield) and Olivia (Samara Weaving). Vincent is a billionaire industrialist married to Kathryn (Betsy Brandt) and is having an affair with the big time movie star Olivia. Seeing paparazzi pictures of all three of them outside a fancy hotel, Kathryn is convinced her husband is cheating. But Vincent and his lawyer, Daniel (Alex Hernandez), hatch a scheme to fake a public relationship between Olivia and the lowly Antonio. Now Olivia and Antonio are frequently, and very intentionally, seen in public for the cameras. She has a big time movie premiere and brings Antonio along as her date, much to the shock of Antonio’s valet buddy and brother-in-law Benny (Amaury Nolasco) and the happiness of Antonio’s mother, Cecilia (Carmen Salinas). But the valet and the movie star become close friends, even as Antonio pines for his ex, and the web of lies threatens to collapse.
It is kind of a cynical yet fun premise, as Olivia is portrayed as knowingly shallow. She immediately goes along with the deception because she doesn’t want to be known as an adulteress and, more importantly, it would tarnish her image of the media company for inspiring women’s stories. Antonio happily goes along as the amount of money he wants can pay off a debt for his ex-wife. He’s a well-natured doormat of a person which makes the moments when he finally realizes that he can stand up for himself stirring. Trying to win back his ex-wife is something of a lost cause, she has clearly moved on and it’s not the movie star who catches his eye but the friendly bicycle shop owner, Natalie (Diany Rodriguez). In a standard romantic comedy, the nobody and the starlet would reach across the divide for love but here it’s just a scheme. He never sees her as a romantic object, just someone he has to tag along with.
Derbez’s performance is fun and especially surprising considering he played the wise high school music teacher in the Best Picture winning CODA. On the opposite end of the spectrum in The Valet, his Antonio is friendly but dopey. His reactions of being rather dumbfounded by all the Hollywood wackiness are very enjoyable. Weaving’s high strung Olivia has great moments of Hollywood star shallowness, like her refusal to have anything but liquid before a big premiere, or when she rips into her assistant for not anticipating her needs. Also her low key reactions of exasperation at Antonio are great. Probably the funniest moment is when they know they’re being spied on by private investigators through a window so Olivia mimes being intimate with Antonio like a movie sex scene and he has no idea what is going on and slips away halfway through. There’s a subplot about a professional rivalry between the two private investigators that probably contributes to the movie’s somewhat overlong running time but seeing the two PIs one-up each other and eventually team up is good for yuks.
Greenfield as the cheating husband is hatefully shallow and his lawyer Daniel also seems like a scumbag but has a moment of humanity as he’s paying off Antonio. The women Antonio is really in love with, the ex-wife and the bicycle shop owner, come off as much more down to Earth than the actress. There are some decent laughs with Nolasco as Benny, where he’s absolutely stunned that Antonio has nabbed a Hollywood actress. A funny scene is when Benny, Antonio and their buddies are driving the passed out Olivia through a drive-through and they’re scared that if people see them they’ll be deported. The relationship Antonio has with his mom is sweet as she cares about him being happy. She has also started an intense physical relationship with the building’s landlord, Mr. Kim. It is amusing because Antonio points out that she doesn’t speak Korean and he doesn’t speak Spanish, but Cecelia says that they speak a higher language of love which immediately makes Antonio feel awkward.
The Valet is a sturdy romantic comedy with some good zingers about Hollywood movie making and celebrity obsession. What holds it together is the chemistry of the two leads as two people who aren’t destined for each other but they awkwardly fake it for the cameras.