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The Top 5 Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Five Funny French Films, American Idiot, Neon Dash and More

It's a weekend of hilarity -- hilarity with an accent -- at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Five Funny French Films festival, an annual gathering of contemporary French comedies. Friday starts off with Regis Roinsard's Populaire (2012), in which the sexual politics of the 1950s are played out via a small-town woman's quest to be judged the fastest typist in France. Also on Friday is Alexandre Castagnetti's Amour et turbulences (2013), the story of two former lovers thrown together during a long flight. The couple rehash their affair, which didn't end well, much to the amusement of fellow travelers, all of whom happily add their own opinions to the spirited exchange.

On Saturday, Laurent Truel's La grande boucle (2013) chronicles the adventures of an amateur cyclist who competes in his own Tour de France by riding a day ahead of the official racers. Serge Bozon's Tip Top (2013) also screens on Saturday. For mature audiences, Tip Top is a deadpan comedy starring Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Kiberlain as two internal-affairs cops investigating murder and corruption.

On Sunday is Antonin Peretjatko's 2013 La fille du 14 Juillet, a road movie that follows a pair of lazy Louvre security guards who are headed to the beach, only to find out the government is about to reduce the usual month-long vacation. Max Linder's 1921 silent Sept ans de malheur, the first Hollywood feature starring French comedian Linder, also screens on Sunday. After accidentally breaking a mirror, Linder's character faces a series of calamities.

See Tip Top at 8 p.m. March 22; La fille du 14 Juillet at 7:30 p.m. March 23; Populaire at 6 p.m. March 21 and 1 p.m. March 22; Amour et turbulences at 8:15 p.m. March 21 and 5:30 p.m. March 23; La grande boucle at 6 p.m. March 22 and 2 p.m. March 23; and Sept ans de malheur at 4 p.m. March 23. 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7515 or visit mfah.org. $10.

Will is the guy who stays home, who does right by his pregnant girlfriend and gives up his dreams rather than move to the big city with his two friends. Except it doesn't work, and what better way to play out his angst than with Green Day's punk rock opera American Idiot, coming to the Hobby Center courtesy of Gexa Energy Broadway for four one-act performances over three days including Saturday. American Idiot the album (which originally came out in 2004 at the height of the Iraq war) received the 2010 Grammy® Award for Best Musical Show Album, and the Broadway show itself won a 2010 Tony® Award nomination for Best Musical.

The 90-minute show features politically caustic lyrics by lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong, but with a style of punk rock that has some of its harsher edges removed. Casey O'Farrell, who has been touring for the past two years with the show, sums up his character with the song titled "Too Much, Too Soon." "Will is experiencing too much of life too soon for his own good. He's one of three guys frustrated with growing up in suburban America. He stays home to be the father, which he is also not prepared to handle. He ends up pushing his family away and his friends away and ends up in this isolated state of depression." Between songs, the action moves forward three or four weeks each time, O'Farrell says. This isn't a show for young kids, he cautions, nor for those who are going to be offended by the opinionated Armstrong's take on the effect of social media on America with lingering negatives about the war in Iraq. "The show is all written around post-911, political and the state of America." O'Farrell finds expressing such sentiments through song "really liberating," and says he respects the show for its "raw honesty."

See American Idiot at 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-315-2525 or visit houston.broadway.com. $35 to $104.95.

In the grand tradition of wacky races (think of runners dressed as Elvis or in bridal gowns or underwear) comes the Neon Dash Houston, one of our picks for Saturday. Runners -- who must come attired in mostly solid white T-shirts -- will run, jog, walk or dance a 5K race into four different "Glow Zones."

As the runners race through, organizers cover participants with neon powder or water (reportedly "safer than kindergarten finger paint and even gluten-free!") while black lights illuminate the proceedings down the route, provoking insane bursts of color.

Post-race festivities include a huge "After Glow" party with DJ music and performances.

Things start to get colorful at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, 501 Crawford. For information, call 480-340-7160 or visit neondash.com. $30 to $60.

On Sunday, actors Ashley Bell, Clint Howard and William Katt and director Christopher Folino will be in attendance at Sparks with Cast and Crew Live. Every summer cinemas are packed with plenty of colossal-budget superhero flicks, but Folino may be the man who turns the entire genre on its head, thanks to the indie success of Sparks. Folino, a commercial director, mortgaged his house to pay for it and teamed up with Greatest American Hero star William Katt to create a small film that would stand up story-wise against the superhero titans of Marvel and DC. Chase Williamson is Ian Sparks, a superhero in the 1940s who, along with his partner, Lady Heavenly (Ashley Bell), pursues a sadistic serial killer in New York City.

Folino gives audiences a character-driven crime drama that chronicles a hero's fall in a cold, cruel world, something we usually have to wait for sequels to get to (think Spider-Man 2). Even on the limited budget, the fight scenes, the sets, and the gloriously old-fashioned cars and costumes give the movie an impressive splash, but the real catch is seeing so much honest zeal come from everyone involved to deliver the kind of story we've been promised since The Spirit and never really received. A live question-and-answer and signing session with Bell, Howard, Katt and Folino will follow the screening.

Catch the Sparks screening and cast appearance at 7 p.m. Sunday at Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park, 531 South Mason. For information, call 281-492-6900 or visit drafthouse.com. $12.

Another choice for Sunday is Pulitzer Prize-winning Lynn Nottage's comedy By the Way, Meet Vera Stark looks at what life was like for an African American actress in 1930s Hollywood. Here's a hint: You could play a maid or a mammy, end of options.

Inspired by the life of Houston native and actress Theresa Harris (she was in the 1933 film Baby Face playing a maid to Barbara Stanwyck's femme fatale), By the Way offers up some insights into the difficult choices black women faced in pre-Code Hollywood (either play a stereotype or don't work). It also offers up some laughs. (At one point Vera tells her black friend that slaves are being cast for a Southern epic. "Slaves with lines?" her friend asks hopefully.)

"You wouldn't think this would be a funny topic, that's true," says actress Elizabeth Marshall Black, who plays Vera's white employer, Gloria Mitchell, "but sometimes things are so bad, you have to laugh at them in order to get through. It's the interaction between the two women that we're laughing at, what happens in their relationship." Mitchell, Black says, isn't prejudiced; she's condescending...to everyone. Each woman is hopeful the next film will be her big break, and when both get cast in the same movie, things get complicated. This is the regional premiere of Vera Stark.

Meet Vera Stark at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Through April 13. Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main. For information, call 713‑520‑0055 or visit ensemblehouston.com. $19 to $44.

Margaret Downing, Jef with One F and Bob Ruggiero contributed to this post.

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