Published Jan 22, 2009When it was released in France last summer, Welcome to the Sticks, the latest film from popular director/comedian Dany Boon (My Best Friend, Joyeux Noel), grossed a record-breaking $200 million, becoming the country's most successful domestic production of all time. For unsuspecting viewers who didn't happen to live in France during summer 2008 that will be hard to believe. This is a lame, tiresome comedy where any charm seems to have been lost in translation.
The film starts agreeably enough, with several funny scenes of middle-aged Post Office manager Philippe (Kad Merad) faking a disability to snatch a transfer to the south of France, where he hopes he will be able to repair his ho-hum marriage. When caught, he is instead banished to the north of France, an area described in hushed tones by everyone around him as a freezing hellhole. Upon arrival, he finds the area's residents, especially a goofy mama's boy played by Boon himself, to be charming and welcoming (if a bit simple) but also realizes that the more he tells his wife he is going through agony the closer they become.
Much of the humour in Welcome to the Sticks is derived from a dialect spoken by the northerners called "Ch'ti," which, as translated by the English subtitles, involves pronouncing words like "see" and "say" as "shee" and "shay." This is the type of linguistic humour that doesn't translate well to English, but I have trouble believing it was much funnier in French. (Annoyingly, the subtitles are in the Ch'ti dialect for the entire running time, making reading them a downright chore.)
The rest of the humour, which involves tired culture class stereotypes and the most ancient comedy clichés (yes, our hero gets cartoonishly drunk), isn't much better, and by the time the Northerners begin purposely embarrassing themselves just to help Philippe's marriage, one begins longing for the comparative logic and grace of France's other favourite clown, Jerry Lewis. (E1)