A little trashier and less polite than you’d expect

Martin Matte and Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin in Le trip à trois

Quebec cinema has a rather rich history of bawdy comedies; though they first started as a direct reaction to the freedom that came with the Catholic church’s loss of power in the late 60s, they soon became a viable genre for about a decade. It wouldn’t be far off to assume that Le trip à trois (quite literally The Threesome) continues that tradition. In fact, Le trip à trois has more in common with the films of Judd Apatow – raunchy but grounded, interested in characters beyond their immediate function as a punchline. The film often opens a subplot without necessarily feeling the need to follow it through to its logical conclusion. I bring up, as an example, a subplot in which the lead character is called in to school because her daughter has been fighting. Beyond that scene, the plot is never wrapped up; it does not, Daddy’s Home-style, end up with the two fathers duking it out at the school dance.

“We wanted to make a movie about a couple,” says director Nicolas Monette. “I wanted to explore how difficult it is to be a couple, sometimes. We often say that being a parent is the hardest job in the world, but being a parent is sort of an additional task to being in a couple. A lot of the things we explore in the margins are things that are based on daily life. In my own life, the school will call me up about my kids and I’ll totally forget to follow up because some other thing pops up and so on. We had to focus on a single story, but I like the idea that there are all these branches that don’t necessarily pan out.”

Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin stars as Estelle, a career-driven woman who wakes up one day to find that her sex life has passed her by. Too busy taking care of her daughter and husband (Martin Matte), trying to make headway in a finance job under a hyper-driven boss (Karine Gonthier-Hyndman), keeping tabs on her party-girl sister (Bénédicte Décary), and generally taking the entire world on her back, she fears she’s become boring. In order to reclaim her sexuality, she settles on the idea of a threesome: a concept that’s easier said than done, especially considering the conflicting information from her best friends (Anne-Élisabeth Bossé and Geneviève Schmidt) and the relative complexity of navigating the worlds of dating apps, swingers, lesbian trysts, and so on.

“We didn’t want to fall into clichés, so we allowed ourselves a little more freedom,” says Désormeaux-Poulin. “It’s a little trashier and a little less polite than you’d expect! The threesome is really just an excuse; it’s what she hangs her existential crisis on and what she uses to steer off the beaten path. I was interested in that, especially since I haven’t done much comedy in my career. But what I really liked was the truth of it and the trashiness of it, but at its core, it’s a feel-good movie.”

Le trip à trois is told from a woman’s perspective, even if both its screenwriter and director are men.

“I’ve always written for women, since the very beginning,” says screenwriter Benoît Pelletier. “There are many women who collaborated with me on the script. I taught at the École nationale de l’humour for years, and I taught many women whose input I sought for this film. I had reading groups made up of seven or eight stand-ups and comedy writers in their 20s and 30s. I wanted to hear what they had to say and use that to make my characters credible. I also wanted to validate some of the things I had come up with. There are things that, as a guy, I’m completely biased on, so I needed their input on these ideas of sexuality, of couplehood, of self-questioning…

“That was the starting point. Afterwards, I had women re-read each version of the script and gave their point of view on it. Even the financial institutions – obviously there are lots of women who work on their committees, so I had notes from them as well. People from the industry, people who aren’t, a sex therapist… In fact, the first draft of the film had title cards with statistics on them. We eventually took them out, but I’d done all that research. I didn’t want this movie to come from a guy’s perspective, and I wanted it to be a credible role for Mélissa to play. Caroline Allard and Rafaële Germain also helped with punch-ups, and when Rafaële saw the first version I showed her, she said ‘You can get a lot heavier than this!’ I didn’t want it to be too shocking, to sound too much like a dude, but she said that girls talked much more crudely than what I had written!”

Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Anne-Élisabeth Bossé, Bénédicte Décary and Geneviève Schmidt in Le trip à trois

“It’s a movie about women’s sexuality,” says Décary. “There’s a lot of girl talk that maybe guys aren’t so used to hearing. I thought it was interesting how Anne-Élisabeth’s character, who just gave birth, talks pretty frankly about breastfeeding and about the process of giving birth. It’s not the kind of stuff that generally gets talked about in the kinds of movies we make here. It explores taboos.”

For much of the cast, shooting a film is almost a luxury. Most of the players in Le trip à trois’s cast spend their year working mostly in TV, shooting up to 20 pages a day. Though he’s best known as a standup, Martin Matte has also recently come off several seasons of Les beaux malaises, a half-hour comedy in which he stars. “TV and film are very closely related,” he says. “It’s the same crews, the same equipment, the same camera, same kind of lights. Of course, on a day’s shoot in TV you might end up with ten usable minutes while in film you’ll have three. It’s a slower pace, with more story to tell. But when you’re doing the scene, you have to do the scene. The situation is different, but the work is the same.”

In a lot of ways, Le trip à trois can be seen as an “Americanized” take on the Quebec comedy, though it certainly isn’t without Québecois flavour. “Judd Apatow is really a benchmark in comedy, as far as I’m concerned,” says Monette. “I really try to keep on top of what he does. About a month ago, I heard a podcast that he was on and he was saying that he tests different cuts in front of audiences. His films are heavily improvised – as is ours – and that allows him to see what works and what doesn’t. Stand-ups like Martin will test a number out time and time again, to see what works and what doesn’t – but when you make a movie, you can’t really do that.

“We were lucky enough to have one test screening while we were editing and I went all-in: all the jokes were in there. That’s when I realized that jokes that I worked on hard and gunned for heavily fell completely flat, but a throwaway line from Anne-Élisabeth would kill. What we had done was set up a camera that filmed the audience. We used that footage and laid it over the movie. We used that to guide the laughs alongside the editor – but sometimes it isn’t even laughs. People just had these looks on their face – they were heavily, heavily cringing – which is just as good!”

Though his influences are clearly Apatowian, there’s one thing about Monette’s film that clearly sets it apart: it’s a tight 90 minutes, an increasingly foreign concept in the world of mainstream comedies. “I come from the world of advertising,” says Monette. “I’ve worked on something like 400 different ad campaigns. I’m already pretty conscious of rhythm. my last film, Aurélie Laflamme: Les pieds sur terre, was about 2:10 and that seemed like too much to me, but the story unfolded in such a way that I couldn’t really cut anything out. Here, I wanted to hit 90 minutes on the nose – I came up a tiny bit short, even. The first cut was nearly two hours long, and we had to sacrifice some great moments in order to get to that.”

“My intention from the beginning was that it focus on an internal conflict rather than an external one,” explains Pelletier. “It couldn’t happen because she wants to please her husband. It needed to be internal. That was the first decision I took, before I wrote anything else. Imagine that, in the climate of the times! It’s a lot more empowering for her to prove something to herself by going so far out of her comfort zone.” ■

Le trip à trois opens in theatres on Wednesday, Dec. 20 (French only). Watch the trailer here:

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