'New Biz in the Hood' ('Jusqu'ici tout va bien'): Film Review

Courtesy of Quad Films
A likable if facile social comedy.

Director Mohamed Hamidi's banlieue-set movie stars Gilles Lellouche ('Sink or Swim') and was produced by the team behind box office smash 'The Intouchables.'

Although its ridiculous, borderline offensive international appellation should be condemned to movie title purgatory, the feel-good French comedy New Biz in the Hood (Jusqu’ici tout va bien) actually has a decent concept and a few well-observed jokes, if not quite enough to make this formulaic film work for the long haul.

Co-written and directed by Mohamed Hamidi (One Man and His Cow), and starring Gilles Lellouche — whose own feel-good comedy, Sink or Swim, was a major hit last year — Biz follows the shenanigans of a high-strung Parisian marketing exec forced to move his company to the rough banlieue of La Courneuve, where he crosses paths with drug dealers, pint-sized thugs and a mild-mannered security guard begging for a job.

Like other recent French box office smashes, such as the Serial Bad Weddings franchise and the 2011 mega-hit The Intouchables (which was produced by the same company that did Biz), the film tries to reconcile racial and class differences in the friendliest, most crowd-pleasing way possible, often resorting to cliches to do so. That shouldn’t prevent it from raking in decent, um, biz for its late-February local release.

Lellouche plays Frederic Bartel, a smooth-talking 40-something entrepreneur who runs a small business that designs product displays for cosmetics and perfume brands. Beyond the fact that he’s recently divorced, with a schlumpy teenage son (Gregoire Plantade) who wants nothing to do with him, things seem to be going fairly well for Frederic ever since he managed to land a big new client for his company.

The hitch is that the French authorities have caught on to a scheme Frederic has been running for years, falsely claiming his firm, Happy Few, was domiciled up in La Courneuve in order to reap significant tax advantages for businesses implanted in low-income neighborhoods. The taxmen give him an ultimatum: pay off a $2 million debt or actually transfer his company to the banlieue, bringing opportunities to an impoverished community in dire need of employment.

Thus ensues a predictable if sometimes funny fish-out-of-water comedy, with Frederic and his workers introduced to life on the other side of the périphérique (the beltway separating Paris from its suburbs). The best jokes come early on, with overzealous local guard Samy (Malik Bentalha), whom Frederic temporarily hires to help out — and only really brings on full-time when he’s forced to — giving the team a lesson in La Courneuve living, which includes self-defense techniques and how to walk around like a thug. Another fun scene has the Happy Few crew taking a guided bus tour as if they were visiting a hostile foreign country.

Hamidi, who wrote the script with Michael Souhaite and Khaled Amara, makes a few keen observations about how divided Paris and its banlieues remain, especially when it comes to the job market. A telling interview sequence shows how candidates hardly from La Courneuvue barely have a chance because of their ethnic origins or where they grew up, with one overqualified woman (Annabelle Lengronne) only able to find work at a McDonald’s. 

Yet while the filmmakers try to provide an evenhanded depiction of Le Courneuve that bunks certain stereotypes, they do so in a way that feels extremely broad and often eye-rollingly simplistic, especially as the plot progresses. Thus, a menacing drug kingpin (Karim Belkhadra) turns out to be a kindhearted fan of Barry White; a thuggish tween becomes a helpful ally; and the underdog Samy winds up saving the day and getting the girl in the most upbeat way possible.

Biz ultimately slides into cliche mode in the last act, nearly erasing whatever (street) cred it earned beforehand, and the film's propos are underserved by a narrative that transitions from amusing social comedy to B-level caper flick.

Still, there’s something touching about what Hamidi is trying to pull off here, and leading man Lellouche gives a credible performance that never steps too far into caricature. Stand-up star Bentalha is also good, playing Samy as a wimpy local who just wants to work without too much hassle. Supporting cast offers up a mix of likable if stereotypical characters, especially when it comes to the various boyz from the hood.

Production companies: Quad, Kiss Films
Cast: Gilles Lellouche, Malik Bentalha, Sabrina Ouazani, Camille Lou, Anne-Elisabeth Blateau, Loic Legendre
Director: Mohamed Hamidi
Screenwriters: Mohamed Hamidi, Michael Souhaite, Khaled Amara
Producers: Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, Jamel Debbouze
Director of photography: Laurent Dailland
Production designer: Arnaud Roth
Costume designer: Hadjira Ben-Rahou
Editor: Marion Monnier
Composer: Ibrahim Maalouf
Casting director: Swan Pham
Sales: TF1 Studio

In French
90 minutes