“Waiting for Bojangles” has promise, starting from its exuberant opening sequence. In one long, simple take, Roinsard follows Duris’s eerily charming Georges as he smiles and lounges his way through a fancy party on a Riviera terrace in 1958, downing glass after glass of champagne and telling one story after another. Georges also spies Efira’s strikingly beautiful Camille dancing dramatically alone and being smitten. Their flirty, sun-kissed tango feels like old-fashioned fun.
But it becomes clear, as they quickly fall in love and get married, that Camille is troubled. The fact that Georges calls her by so many other names, from Antoinette to Marlene to Olga, is a playful recurring bit, but it also seems to add to her instability. She even tells him directly as an early warning, “I’m either happy or sad, never calm.” He doesn’t mind: “I’m bad faith made flesh,” he says in a clever twist.
Fast forward to 1967, Georges and Camille are married and living in a smartly messy apartment in Paris. Artfully stacked piles of books and unopened bills clutter the place, and the family’s pet crane roams free (when she’s not walking down the street on a leash). Camille and Georges now have a young son, Gary (Solan Machado Graner), named after Gary Cooper, who likes to dress up as a pirate and exchange wildly imaginative stories with his mother. Graner is a sensitive actor with a wise presence beyond his years, but so much of the forced wonder in the script that Roinsard adapted with Romain Compingt, feels incessant and – eventually – oppressive. The use of the song “Mr. Bojangles,” which gives the film its title, also quickly becomes tiresome, as Camille repeatedly dances to it barefoot in the living room as an expression of her depression. (The costume design is always spectacular, though, the work with Emmanuelle Youchnovskiwho dresses Efira in a range of cool, modern dresses and soft, cozy cardigans.)
“Waiting for Bojangles” is based on the novel of the same name by Olivier Bourdeau. The book is told from Gary’s perspective, which makes the story’s overwhelming sense of whimsy make sense. Of course, everything is magical—including your beautiful, spontaneous mother—when you’re nine years old. But the film’s perspective is omniscient, making Camille’s struggles a source of frustration for the viewer. We see what’s really going on with her, and she obviously needs help – why isn’t she getting it?