The Secret Laughter of Women (1999) – Film Review


A romantic comedy with a cross-cultural twist, The Secret Laughter of Women, simultaneously ticks all of the boxes for a girl’s night in, an intelligent comedy and that feel good factor. Telling the story of beautiful, single mother Nimi (Nia Long), a Nigerian exile living in the South of France and her son Sammy, a world of conflicting cultures and ideas is immediately evident, whether trying to keep up with the increasing demands of the privacy-less Nigerian community, or simply trying to fit in at school. Things become even more complicated with the arrival of Matthew (Colin Firth), a British ex-pat and comic book author who threatens the delicate balance of their lives.

Set in the beautiful backdrop of the south of France, The Secret Laughter of Women portrays a series of rich and vibrant cultures, both tangible and believable; from the small Nigerian community, the sumptuous French landscape and Firth’s blunt yet loveable British gent. Under the directorship of Peter Schwabach it’s clear to see the importance of cultural identity within the film, as Nimi is not just choosing who she wants to spend her life with, but making her own choices about her own cultural identity. Integral to his presentation of converging lives is not only their realism, but the lack of prejudice in their portrayal. The audience can appreciate the flaws that can be found in all societies as well as the benefits.

Intrigue can also be found in the film’s simplicity in ideas. As young Sammy is absorbed by the fictional world of Saracen, where everything is simple and works as one chooses, as is his meeting with comic book author Matthew Fields and Fields’ own blunt attitude to life. In contrast to the hectic rush that surrounds Nimi’s life there is perhaps the suggestion that life sometimes really can be that simple.

The Secret Laughter of Women is, at its heart, a rom-com. Subtle humour builds throughout the film – Firth causally mentioning hearing that Eve was not in fact tempted by an apple but a tomato. From casual gardening references, to crates of tomatoes at the door, the witty humour throughout is guaranteed to bring smiles. Touching hilarity also abounds in everyday life; from explaining the birds and the bees, to childish games in flower beds. Firth appears once again as the typical English gent, perhaps an early prototype with added quirks. A short temper, hidden wife and a questionable view on love add extra depth and intrigue to his character.

The Secret Laughter of Women is the perfect combination of depth and light-hearted humour, making it an ideal watch for those of all genders and ages.

Best lines: ‘I read somewhere in the Garden of Eden that Eve was tempted not by an apple but a tomato’ – Matthew
‘Once upon a time? That’s for kids. Real stories start with a punch!’ – Matthew
Most boring headscarf colour: Blue.
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