Sometimes when I watch a film it just clicks, and I get into it on an emotional level. Whether this happens is related to my mood and state of mind at the time of watching. I can’t predict when it’ll happen or what type of film it’ll happen with. Someone could probably research why it happens and deduce some answers, but I’ll just go with it and be thankful.
The latest film that reached into my brain and tickled all the right places is The Valet (2022), released in May on Hulu, Disney+, and other Disney-owned streaming services. I don’t think it got a cinema release beyond a premier. This lack of cinema release probably means it won’t get much industry and awards buzz later this year. This is a shame, as I think it should. It will definitely be on my favourite films of 2022 list. It’s a remake of a 2006 French film with the same name.
The Headline Plot
The plot for The Valet is pretty simple on the surface. The logline on IMDb says: A movie star enlists a parking valet at a Beverly Hills restaurant to pose as her lover to cover for her relationship with a married man.
The story is a lot deeper than this synopsis suggests. It has important things to say about multiculturalism, family, immigrant experiences, the job-based class divide, people driving the service economy, high-profile success, and the loneliness that anyone can experience irrespective of their background, success, and current status in society. The story is set in Los Angeles and is told via characters who are successful in the film industry and real estate sectors, alongside others who work in the service and retail sectors that underpins almost all modern life.
In the text below, I’ll dig deeper into the plot and highlight some of the things I love about the film in a VERY SPOILER-HEAVY way. So if you haven’t watched the film yet, you should do that before reading on.
Bottom line: I loved The Valet, and it’s now one of my favourite films.
Olivia Allan (Samara Weaving) is a successful and famous film star who has a new film about to be released. As she says later in the film, her face is one of the most recognisable in the world. This is evidenced early in the film when we see giant billboards advertising her perfume brand, plus other billboards and posters for her new Amelia Earhart film. These billboards are often seen with others promoting the services of Ronnie the Realtor. This conjunction plays a significant part in the plot. Ronnie the Realtor’s advertising on bus stop seats directly leads to Olivia first meeting Antonio Flores (Eugenio Derbez), the eponymous valet. More on this later.
Olivia is in a relationship with wealthy married real estate businessman Vincent Royce (Max Greenfield). He has been promising to leave his wife Kathryn (Betsy Brandt) for a year. As a result, Olivia and Vincent have to meet via clandestine methods to stop their relationship from becoming public. Vincent can’t risk letting Kathryn know as she and her father have a controlling stake in the real estate business and would force him out if there was a divorce. Olivia can’t risk news of her involvement with a married man becoming public. Her fledgling film production company is focused on telling empowering women’s stories, and a clandestine affair doesn’t fit that narrative. Olivia decides that she has had enough of the secret relationship on the night of her and Vincent’s first anniversary. She leaves the hotel where they met and orders a ride-share pickup at the front, where some paparazzi photographers have gathered.
At the same time, Antonio is riding past the front of the hotel on his bicycle. He gets distracted by a bus stop bench with an advertisement and picture of Ronnie the Realtor, as his ex-wife had previously told him that she was in a new relationship with him. This causes him to crash into the back of the car waiting to collect Olivia in front of the hotel. The commotion that results from this accident attracts the attention of a photographer. He takes a picture of Olivia and Vincent (who had followed Olivia out), with Antonio captured in the background.
This picture is sold to celebrity gossip sites and published with a tagline saying that Olivia Allan and Vincent Royce were seen having a lover’s spat. Vincent lies to his wife and tells her that the argument was between Olivia and the other guy in the picture — Antonio. Unsurprisingly she is sceptical about this. Vincent tells all this to Daniel, his corporate lawyer. Daniel (Alex Fernandez) has the idea that they could make Vincent’s lie to Kathryn seem genuine if they find the other guy in the photo and get Olivia to pretend to be going out with him. Antonio agrees to this to get the money his ex-wife needs to complete a college course. He hopes to use it to get back into her good books and rekindle their relationship. Olivia agrees to do it to stop a scandal overshadowing her upcoming Earhart film release. And to divert the bad publicity and impact it might have on the potential sale of her production company.
This is about Olivia's Journey
While the film’s title is The Valet, I think this is Olivia’s story and how she changes over time. The bulk of the film plays out as the two very different worlds that Olivia and Antonio inhabit collide. These interactions are not played for cheap laughs, but rather the story and the message the film conveys are a celebration of people from all walks of life, family ties, immigrant stories, and to highlight that success doesn’t guarantee happiness or good relationships. You can be rich and still be alone, just as easily as you can if you are a service worker like a valet or a janitor. It’s a love letter to people who too often get treated as invisible by others.
Olivia has what many would consider a perfect life. She is famous, very successful, and lives in an archetypical house in the Hollywood hills. But as her character outlines later in the film, she has no real friends beyond the people that she pays. Such as her assistant Amanda (Tiana Okoye) and her publicist Jennifer (Katie Carpenter). She is estranged from her family and in a relationship with a married man who is most likely lying to her about his plan to leave his current wife. There is genuine pathos in the part of the film where Olivia confides all this to Antonio. In addition, the stress associated with ensuring the success of her production company affects Olivia. We see in the film that quite a few people are working in her office, and they all rely on her success for their jobs.
It’s evident that Olivia is lonely despite her professional success. Indeed, it’s probably because of her success and the professional bubble she has built around herself to further her film career.
When Worlds Collide
Part of the ongoing deception to convince everyone that Olivia and Antonio are dating involves them attending the premier of the Earhart film. This is so stressful for Olivia that she has too many “happy pills” and champagne to calm her nerves. The unexpected attendance of Vincent and Kathryn does not help her stress levels at the premier. This is part of Kathryn’s attempt to expose the lie of Olivia and Antonio’s relationship as she suspects it is a cover.
Olivia’s over-indulgence at the film premier leads to Antonio having to take her home to his apartment as he doesn’t know her address and can’t use the limo they came in in order to avoid pictures being taken of Olivia drunk. The following day there is a crowd of people in Antonio’s kitchen who have come to see the famous film star. Olivia is persuaded to have breakfast with them while waiting for Amanda to arrive and take her home. During this time, she sees the loving relationships in Antonio’s extended family and his mum’s relationship with their Korean landlord. This highlights the very different interactions that she has with people. During this breakfast, Antonio’s son invites her to attend his school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which he plays Lysander.
When the reviews for the Earhart premier are published, the film is well received and deemed a great success. Olivia attempts to arrange to meet with Amanda, Jennifer, and then Vincent, but all three have other plans, and Olivia is left alone again. She decides to go to the school play and spends more time with Antonio’s family and co-workers. At the end of the night, she asks if she can stay in his apartment again rather than go home to an empty house.
I like that Olivia and Antonio don’t hook up and become a couple, but rather their interactions result in them becoming friends after a few bumpy episodes that you’ll know from the film.
Supporting Cast Add Depth to the Film
Several subplots and many other characters get reasonably constructed story arcs during the runtime. I think these add to the overall feel and enjoyment of the story. For example, Antonio’s Valet parking colleagues (one of whom is fretting about deportation), the detectives forming a buddy relationship, Antonio’s extended family, Mr Kim’s Korean family, people campaigning to stop the gentrification of their neighbourhood by Vincent’s development company, the usually unseen kitchen staff who see hope for themselves after Antonio is featured in the news with Olivia, and the team in Olivia’s production company. Their faces and reactions as she freaks out when the paparazzi picture is first published are priceless.