Stand Up, Girl!
- Brian Donaldson
- 21 February 2018
GFF: Autobiographical story of a Belgian woman battling against the odds to become a top stand-up
The world of stand-up comedy can be a tough terrain for women. Any establishment that's been created and moulded by the rules of patriarchal society (whether it's Hollywood, golf courses or the Presidents Club) will take a while to fully embrace inclusivity. Brussels-born comedian Nawell Madani has taken her own struggles climbing the stand-up ladder (as well as portraying a tough life beforehand) and shapes them into an intriguing movie narrative about overcoming socially-constructed barriers and the benefits of perseverance.
Growing up, little Lila (Madani) dreamed of being a dancer and after an inspirational period in the local hip-hop scene (another largely blokey world), she heads to Paris for an audition in Cats. Even after getting a callback, nothing seems to go smoothly for her in the French capital.
Initially very close to her widowed dad Omar (Mimoun Benabderrahmane), it all falls apart when she lies about her true reasons for heading to Paris. But while there, she eventually finds another father figure in the shape of drama coach Fabrice. Played by François Berléand (a veteran actor whose roles include being the David Brent character in Le Bureau, France's attempt at The Office, and Jason Statham's affable police cop pal in the Transporter franchise), Fabrice steers Lila's raw comedic talent into something more manageable for a mainstream audience, eventually leading her into a slot on the French version of Live at the Apollo.
While it takes a good 45 minutes for Lila to even decide to tackle a career in comedy (her japes for fellow restaurant workers go down well, more so than her very first live open mic slot), the next hour zips by with her going from rookie stand-up to one of the elite new guard in the overnight blink of an eye. Having been let down by men throughout the film, somehow Lila can't see the joke theft that's about to occur when she recklessly trusts a more experienced stand-up with her new material: the viewer can see this moment coming a mile off yet this streetwise woman is none the wiser.
But there are still plenty pleasures to be had from Stand Up, Girl! (entitled C'est tout pour moi in France and Belgium), mainly in the earlier sequences after a horrific childhood accident actually drives Lila / Nawell on to be a success. And there's little doubt Madani has abundant talent: not only has she written the screenplay, she's co-directed the film and choreographed the dance sequences. But from the movie's truncated live comedy sections, it's hard to know whether she's also a good stand-up or not.
Stand Up, Girl! is shown at GFT on Friday 23 & Saturday 24 February as part of the Glasgow Film Festival. Nawell Madani will introduce the 23 February screening.