Opening night films at the Cannes Film Festival have long been considered the French theatrical equivalent of a Netflix wine and couch film. Last year, in addition to being a largely forgettable story about a very interesting woman, Maïwenn’s period biopic Jeanne du Barry starring Johnny Depp gave the festival a chance to offer a curatorial shrug in the direction of the actor’s domestic abuse allegations while welcoming his fire hydrant blast of social media attention, perfectly timed as the festival was declared open. 

This year, Quentin Dupieux’s The Second Act continued the trend of films that seek to entertain rather than astonish. A meta, fourth-wall breaking film about making films, The Second Act is of a piece with the two artistic satires Dupieux released in 2023. Daaaaaali! follows the repeated efforts of a journalist to interview surreal artist Salvador Dali, and in Yannick a working-class theatre goer forces actor—at gunpoint—to make a play they are in more interesting.

In The Second Act, Léa Seydoux plays Florence, a needy girlfriend whilst Vincent Lindon plays her father Guillaume. Lindon quits the film in his opening scene, leading to an argument about the value of art. Seydoux insists that the musicians on the Titanic played as the ship sank, while Lindon insists the legend was an invention of Titanic director James Cameron’s until Lindon receives a phone call telling him he has been cast in the new Paul Thomas Anderson film. This improves his mood, and the film can proceed. 

Meanwhile, Louis Garrel’s David and Raphaël Quenard’s Willy bicker as they walk to meet Florence and Guillaume. David wants Willy to seduce Florence, who he is too cowardly to dump and too conflicted to be honest with. This conversation gives Dupieux the opportunity to have Willy play an ignorant bigot who fears Florence might be ugly, overweight, trans, disabled or that the bisexual David might be coming on to him. David reminds him that they’re being filmed and that they could be cancelled if he doesn’t apologise. 

Any offensiveness is undercut by a third act reveal, but as with anything as ironic and metatextual as The Second Act, it doesn’t really matter. Characters are never developed and the actors playing them—all of whom tower over their material—have fun complaining about the “shitty film” they’re in and finding moments of wry commentary about the film industry, but it’s all for very little. Dupieux seems to delight in reminding us that we are clever cineastes, and we know that he is making in-jokes about films and actors, and that may delight some, as it did in my opening night screening, but it is a soufflé of a satire and the comedy feels broad as a concession to the non-cinephile viewer.

Dupieux’s strongest suit seems to be surreal comedies. Rubber, from 2010 and 2022’s Smoking Causes Coughing revealed a filmmaker who could take an idea for a walk and wind up in some interesting places, with the viewer right next to him for the ride. The Second Act never ventures far from home. Dupieux’s film, a Netflix co-production, will be one of the stranger offerings amid the streaming giant’s grid of film posters, but for anyone looking for something undemanding to enjoy on a couch with wine, there are likely better options.

Main image: The Second Act © Chi-Fou-Mi / Arte France Cinéma