You might not think there would be much of a silver lining in being knocked over the parapet of a bridge into the Seine River in Paris, sustaining a broken pelvis and shattered leg and waking up in a hospital room that sees more foot traffic than a rush hour-filled train station, and initially Pierre Laurent (Gérard Lanvin), the retired curmudgeonly patient in question, would be inclined to agree with you.
Still mourning the death of his wife, and haunted by the death of a coworker on one the oil rig platforms where he used to perform quality assurance work, events which caused him to shut down and retreat from life almost completely, he is in no mood to see anything in his blighted existence in glass-half-full terms.
Crotchety and ill-tempered, he quickly gains a reputation among nursing staff at the hospital where he will be forced to recuperate for four long weeks, for being the sort of patient you will avoid as much as possible if you don’t want your day ruined or at least besmirched a little.
But then silver linings are not always the most obvious of things and as time passes, something Pierre ends up having plenty of despite the presence of a stream of visitors including his brother Hervé (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), provider of groan-inducing “dad jokes” and contraband cigarettes, and police captain Maxime Leroy (Fred Testot) who keeps popping up by long after the case is closed looking for a surrogate dad, the unwilling patient realises that perhaps ending up in hospital isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person.
In almost Pollyanna-esque fashion, though not quite as broadly or saccharinely-painted, Pierre finds his life coming alive bit by bit in director Jean Becker’s Get Well Soon (Bon Rétablissement) as he forms meaningful connections with people he would never met otherwise.
Among them is Myriam (Claudia Tagbo), the head nurse on the ward, whose no nonsense approach to patient care softens considerably in Pierre’s case when his description of the discomfort he experiences at the hands of his haughty surgeon during daily rounds – he likens it to be being the frog on the dissection table in a lab – causes the seasoned healthy care provider no end of amusement.
As they begin to form a close and unexpected bond, Pierre’s previously combative attitude to the likes of Maëva (Mona Jabeur), a 14 year old patient who is always asking Pierre for the use of his laptop to talk to her friends on Facebook, and rent boy Camille (Swann Arlaud) who selflessly fished him out of the river, gives way to the kinds of friendships that change his life in ways he would never have seen coming in his once-closed off state.
He is even able to re-establish a friendship, and possibly something more, with Florence (Anne-Sophie Lapix), a celebrated international pianist with whom he once had an affair, as he begins to awaken to the fact that life may not quite be done with him yet.
What is most satisfying about Becker’s treatment of the adaptation of the book Bon rétablissement by Marie-Sabine Roger is that he never allows the movie to sink into the sort of cloyingly, all too emotionally sugary territory it could have entered in the hands of someone looking to simply make an out-and-out feelgood film.
Yes there are plenty of happy endings, of the Pollyanna/Anne of Green Gables kind, and things do end up a little too neatly and heartwarmingly for words, but Get Well Soon (Bon Rétablissement) never completely surrenders its rough, slightly caustic approach to the business of living, with a number of confrontational scenes scattered throughout as Pierre goes about the business of figuring out what form his new post-accident life will take.
Get Well Soon (Bon Rétablissement), is however a largely humourous film – Pierre’s wacky physiotherapist Thierry (Philippe Rebbot) is alone worth the price of admission – making fertile use of the French predilection for threading their comedy with the harsh realities of day to day life.
It has been observed by more than one person that true comedy comes from dark and uncomfortable places, something that is very much true of Becker’s latest piece, as it has been of films like My Afternoons with Marguerite and Conversations with My Gardner, all of which suffuse light gentle humour with the less palatable parts of being human such as mortality, loneliness, unsatisfying relationships and parlous financial states.
What makes this particular film such an enjoyable experience is that it recognises and promotes the fact that with the bad comes the good, that even in the bleakest of situations, and at first Pierre’s situation is as bleak as it gets, silver linings are lurking unseen.
The genius is that it never seeks to create the sense that these silver linings will come to fruition without any effort or bumps in the road; as Pierre discovers over the passage of four long weeks, if you consciously make a decision to embrace the good things life brings your way, you will likely be pleasantly, and possibly, even transformatively surprised by what results.