This review appeared on The Upcoming website here.
Smart Ass is a French comedy-drama about a group of students who start a school prostitution ring. It sounds unpleasant and the film is not smart or funny or likable enough to get away with it.
Two outsiders in an elitist school of business, Dan and Kelly (Thomas Blumenthal and Alice Isaaz) decide to adapt business models and economic theories to the art of social climbing. Their idea is simple: pay an attractive woman to go out with you, and immediately your market appeal goes up and you become popular amongst the school’s elite. Their prostitution ring is initially successful, though through the influence of posh boy Louis (Jean-Baptiste Lafarge), their idea becomes too big for the three of them to handle.
The idea is, of course, unpleasant, deeply so, but it is unclear whether or not the film itself knows it. This prostitution ring as business model idea is introduced fairly quickly into the storyline and none of the characters seem to be particularly bothered by it. Equally the women that Kelly approaches all dumbly go along with the idea even though it is very clearly just prostitution and the benefits for them are totally unclear. No one seems to think that the idea is sexist and reprehensible, which leads one to wonder if writer-director Kim Chapiron does either.
Of course, only women become prostitutes and only men become customers – women have beauty on their side, while men have brains and money, as Louis explains to no one’s distaste. The whole thing could be a satire about how cold and inhuman market forces are (the idea of students applying economic theory to their everyday lives is not a bad idea in itself – Alain Resnais applied behaviourist theory to everyday lives to brilliant effect in My American Uncle), but you have to see past a lot of leering camerawork and nude but undeveloped female characters to think that.
There is an interesting idea somewhere in the film, but the script is badly thought out, wholly unbelievable and misogynistic. The actors are fine but no one could breathe life into such utterly unlikeable characters so badly written. The film has been billed as a comedy, but that, like the title change – the original French title La crème de la crème is much more fitting – sounds like desperation.