Welcome to the Sticksby Roger Young / 25.06.2009
Welcome to the Sticks is an attempt to make a French version of a mainstream American rom-com. From its stabs at fish-out-of-water comedy to weak misunderstood-dialect jokes, the only redeeming thing about the film is that everyone in it is French. How can we tell this isn’t an art film? No nudity, very little smoking and the main characters reconcile.
Philippe Abrams is a post office manager who, in an attempt to please his wife and get her out of her “depression”, fakes a handicap to obtain a transfer to a better part of France. In the ensuing over-the-top and pointless slapstick he is found out and punished by being transferred to “the North”. These Southerners make much of the barbarity of the North, the people and the language. Too much, to the point that we understand they are bigots. And then, the point is re-made and made again. It’s made by his wife’s wailing and by the fact that the “comical” traffic cop lets him off for driving too slowly because he is “going North”. So much is made of it, in fact, that we can only presume he is going to fall in love with the town he ends up in. That the script deviates for so long, in so many convoluted and obvious ways, from him doing so, is the main reason why Welcome to the Sticks doesn’t work. But there are others.
The central device for misunderstanding is the fact that the dialect in the North puts a slight Flemish twist on southern French. The subtitles aim to explain each little misunderstanding by trying to translate them phonetically into similar English mispronunciations. Not only does this make the ham-fisted nature of this attempt at comedy of errors more obvious, it proves also to be quite irritating.
When Philippe finally lets go and starts to enjoy his time in the North, he struggles to convince his wife that it’s not as bad as she envisages. Eventually, he gives in to her pseudo-comedic bigotry and plays up her perception of the loutishness of the Northerners and the terrible conditions. Of course, this leads to her wanting to come up and see for herself. This, in turn, leads to Philippe convincing the entire town to pretend to be loutish and stupid for a weekend in order to drive her away. “Comedy” ensues.
When Philippe first arrives in the town, one of the postmen who works for him says, on finding him sobbing, “A visitor to the North cries twice. Once when he arrives and once when he leaves”. So finally, at the end of the film, when Philippe is leaving, he cries again. His postman friend repeats the statement. That about sums up the comedy and sentimentality of “Welcome to the Sticks”. All humour is painfully set up and then excruciatingly repeated and then torturously explained. But French women are hot in general, so it isn’t all bad, except there are only two in the cast.
It’s a thin little attempt at mainstream cinema. I can imagine it did average business in its home country but I can see no good reason for it being released anywhere else. Had it been in English it would surely not have secured a release in SA. However, due to the fact that it has subtitles, Ster Kinekor will try and pass it off on the art circuit. (Lucky us – ed).
Director: Dany Boon
Cast: Dany Boon, Kad Merad, Zoe Felix
Releases on Friday 26 June at Cinema Nouveau