The resulting odyssey, which finds Bob submitting himself to a rehab clinic and considering his next move, has the clean rhythms of a scripted black comedy. (With their precise archetypes echoing the attributes of a traditional "Odd Couple" pairing, one can easily imagine a producer snatching up the rights to turn "Don't Leave Me" into an American narrative with the likes of Zach Galinianakis as Marcel and perhaps Bryan Cranston in the role of Bob. You read it here first, folks.) Irrespective of the degree to which various scenes contain a constructed element, "Don't Leave Me" allows the men to carry each scene with their off-the-cuff wit. Announcing his plans for one day, Bob sighs, "I'm going to die first…then, I've got some leftover meatballs."
Since the days of Chaplin, melancholic figures have provided the best examples of slapstick, and these guys are no exception. An unruly joint visit to the dentist offers one of several moments of unsettling physical humor. A more shocking sequence involves Marcel passing out drunk in Bob's living room, prompting him to pour hot water to waken his sleeping pal; in another bit, he slips Marcel a shot of ammonia in a questionable attempt to cure his hangover.
Though Bob at first seems like the more collected of the two, when Marcel submits himself to a clinic, he starts to understand his friend's buried problems as more developed versions of his own: Bob, estranged from his adult son while Marcel struggles to remain a good dad to his young kids, proudly announces that he has no problem with a daily diet of rum. Puzzled by this revelation, Marcel is closer to the prospects of returning to his old ways than he initially realizes. The story smartens up along with him.
Ultimately the movie's assertive centerpiece, Marcel remains utterly likable in spite of his catastrophic ways, an utter mess desperately searching for a good time, which places him in a familiar tradition of bumbling male anti-heroes (imagine Kenny Powers by way of Homer Simpson). Telling lewd jokes to the nurses in his ward and then offering to buy them drinks, he threatens to turn his plight into a complete farce. But once back in the outside world, he battles through withdrawal symptoms with alarming results that deepen the stakes of his conflict.
The directors sustain a visual appeal on par with the unusual charisma their stars. Littered with beautiful compositions, "Don't Leave Me" uses insightful visual and audio cues to emphasize their secluded lives: a fleeting cutaway to a drowning frog mirrors Marcel's predicament as he copes with the temptation to take another drink; the use of Roxette's "Listen to Your Heart" blaring from a stereo creates an ironic context while Marcel broods by the window. Through it all, the minimalist quality of Marcel and Bob's lifestyle results in a touching, wistful quality that most dramatically-tinged mainstream comedies would never dare approach.
Irrespective of their chaotic ways, the men maintain an astute self-awareness. "If we don't feel pain, we can't tell when something feels good," Bob asserts. That nugget of wisdom finds its visual parallel in a climactic image where Marcel fumbles his way up a snowy hill with his motorcycle. Viewed solo, his conundrum assails the notion that misery loves company by showing that no amount of it can supply a cure-all for terminal addiction. Stuck in a loop, Marcel and Bob push ahead, but their perennial intoxication is never more than a temporary fix.
Criticwire Grade: A
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Certain to please festival audiences around the world following its premiere at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, "Don't Leave Me" faces tough theatrical prospects in North America (though it has already landed distribution with a Dutch company for early next year). However, strong reviews may turn it into one of the year's sleeper hits.