Serial (Bad) Weddings (Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu?): Film Review

Serial (Bad) Movies - H 2014
Neue Visionen

Serial (Bad) Movies - H 2014

A fun pitch that’s never funny, but will have its producers laughing all the way to the bank.

Christian Clavier (“The Visitors”) stars in this family comedy from writer-director Philippe de Chauveron, which has already become a breakout hit in France.

Although the “bad” is in parentheses, that’s perhaps the best way to describe Serial (Bad) Weddings (Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu?), the latest French comedy -- following Dany Boon’s Superchondriac and last year’s Serial Teachers -- to become a local box office sensation for reasons that seem to have nothing to do with quality. Scoring three million admissions in only ten days, and likely to do two or three times as much in the long run, this middling family rom-com from writer-director Philippe de Chauveron (L’Eleve Ducobu) can hardly land a laugh with a premise that, at least on paper, plays like a cross between Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Father of the Bride, with a smidgen of Four Weddings and a Funeral thrown in.

Produced by distributor-exhibitor UGC and broadcaster TF1, this rather hideous-looking affair has TV money written all over it, dishing out tons of broad-minded jokes that never do justice to the film’s underlying theme: How traditional Frenchies can adapt -- or not -- to their country’s changing multicultural face. And while the 2011 megahit, Intouchables, touched upon similar topics and grossed nearly $400 million worldwide, it’s hard to see Weddings honeymooning far outside the usual Francophone hotspots.

A rapid-fire opening introduces us to wealthy white notaire, Claude Verneuil (Christian Clavier), and his churchgoing wife, Marie (Chantal Lauby), who seem to have everything going for them in their picturesque rural mansion. That is, except for the fact that three of their four lovely daughters have decided to successively marry an Arab (Rachid Benassem), a Jew (David Benichou) and an Asian (Chao Ling), leaving their youngest daughter, Laure (Elodie Fontan), to save the family’s honor.

But that hope soon gets dashed when she introduces papa and maman to her fiancé, Charles (standup comic Noom Diawara) -- a man who’s kind, intelligent, artistic, Catholic, but also black. The upcoming marriage sends shock waves through the “Benetton family” (as a neighbor calls them), causing the three brothers-in-law to try and sabotage the wedding plans (they don’t want Charles upsetting the racial balance) and forcing the parents to come to terms with their own prejudices. But that becomes especially difficult when the groom’s Ivoirian parents roll into town, with stuck-up dad, André (Pascal Nzonzi), showing that racism can certainly run both ways.

While that sounds like a backdrop for a potentially hilarious comedy, the problem with Weddings is that it really isn't funny at all. (Although the French audience this reviewer saw it with, composed mostly of seniors, would probably disagree.) The majority of the jokes are extremely heavy-handed -- the Jew calls the Arab “Arafat” and then is karate-chopped by the Asian; the mother takes Zumba lessons; the family dog accidentally eats a circumcised baby’s foreskin -- yet never go as far as they could.

Equally problematic is the film’s phony “Can’t we all just get along?” message, which hardly feels earned -- the opposite was somewhat true in Intouchables -- and is telegraphed from the very first scene. Indeed, de Chauveron and regular co-writer Guy Laurent seem to be trying to contradict stereotypes (the Arab is a lawyer, the Asian is a refined banker, although the Jew is just a money-hungry entrepreneur) and at the same time, appease nationalistic fears by showing how the two dads can find common ground in their love of fine wine, cigars and Charles de Gaulle.

Performances are mostly exaggerated, with comic star Clavier (The Visitors) doing a lighter version of Louis de Funes, whose racist foibles in 60's-70's films like The Adventures of Rabbi Jacob -- which the script makes reference to at one point – managed to be both troubling and uproarious. And one can only imagine what this type of project could have been with, say, a young Eddie Murphy playing opposite the late Carroll O’Connor, but Weddings only gives us the feeling that we’re living in a world of feel-good Meatheads.

Tech credits, especially the garish overlit lensing, leave much to be desired.

Production companies: UGC, TF1 Droits Audiovisuels, TF1 Films Production

Cast: Christina Clavier, Chantal Lauby, Ary Abittan, Medi Sadoun, Frederic Chau, Noom Diawara

Director: Philippe de Chauveron

Screenwriters: Philippe de Chauveron, Guy Laurent

Producer: Romain Rojtman

Director of photography: Vincent Mathias

Production designer: Farncois Emmanuelli

Costume designer: Eve Marie Arnault

Editor: Sandro Lavezzi

Music: Marc Chouarain

Sales agent: TF1 International

No rating, 97 minutes