Dir Dany Boon. Fr. 2008. 106mins.
A last-minute English title change for Dany Boon's soaraway French box office success (it was to be called Welcome To The Land Of The Ch'tis) should help this broad-based, amiable comedy attract audiences looking to find out what le tout France is talking about.
Butthat is as far as it will probably go, as what is hysterically funny to French audiences - and understandably so - doesn't cross over quite so well, despite some heroic efforts at translating language-based slapstick.
Called Bienvenue chez les ch'tis at home, where it has grossed $116m after a mere three weeks, this very personal Dany Boon project is about a prejudiced post office manager from Southern France who is forced to live amongst the Ch'tis, residents of the Nord-Pas de Calais region of France, who speak cheutimi. The whole idea of cheutimi seems hysterically funny to your average French person, but may sink like a boule for non-native speakers.
While the setups here are professional and the overall feel is sophisticated for a Euro-comedy, wide crossover appeal for this very Gallic farce seems unlikely, and Welcome To The Sticks will ultimately do best in French-speaking territories, large cities with strong expat markets, and niche DVD. Curiosity over its success in France could lend some extra weight.
Sticks is a fish-out-of-water farce that could be remade in every country where a province is mocked for being backward. Co-written, directed by and starring Nord-Pas de Calais native Dany Boon (whose over-the-top gurning in a major role really won't help the picture in international markets), Sticks benefits greatly from the warm presence of Kad Merad as Salon-de-Provence post office manager Philippe.
Philippe tries to cheat his way into a Cote D'Azur transfer at the urging of his depressed wife Julie (Zoe Felix), but is rumbled and sent to the northern town of Bergues instead. Packing his Southern prejudices along with some artic clothing, Philippe hits the road, leaving his wife and son behind. Julie, meanwhile, is oddly cheered up by his hardship posting and relishes her new role of consoling wife.
Of course, once in Bergues, Philippe finds the town, its residents and his co-workers (led by Boon as lovelorn drunken postie Antoine) quite charming, and soon he's having a great time with his new buddies.
The film's gags are professionally-executed throughout and Sticks's best sequence - a bravura, genuinely funny extended set-up carried out with aplomb - comes when Julie heads north and the locals try live up to their reputation as drunken yokels to put her off. This may come too late in the game for some, however, and Boon fails to quit while the going's good, instead indulging in a banal corny finale.
Apart from Boon's mugging, the acting credits are uniformly charming, led by Merad, Zoe Felix as his love interest and Philippe Marivin and Guy Lecluyse in supporting roles as post office workers. Technical credits are fine and, as mentioned above, the sub-titlers have made heroic efforts, at least in the English version.
Pathe Renn Prods
YFI Films Prod
Les Productions du Chicon
(33) 1 40 76 91 86