Welcome To The Sticks
(a.k.a. Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'tis)

Director: Dany Boon
Kad Merad, Dany Boon, Zoé Félix

Although I have talked about this topic before, I think it's worth discussing again. That topic happens to be needs. We all have needs. Some of them are unique needs that are unlikely to be found in other people. For example, I have one such unique need, that need to satisfy my cinematic curiosity by seeking out, watching, and writing reviews about unknown movies. (Though it's getting harder to satisfy this need since it's getting harder for me to find unknown movies.) On the opposite ends, there are needs that are pretty much or completely universal, needs that you won't just find in your particular society or personal circle. One of those universal needs I am sure that you, dear reader, have is a need to feel like you belong in your society. That feeling that you belong can come in many different ways, ranging from being in some kind of employment where you feel valued, to being in some sort of relationship with someone ranging from being a spouse to being a sibling. I am sure that sometime in your life you have acknowledged such feelings, even if it was just with your internal self. But I really want to talk about one other universal need just about everyone has that may not have crossed your mind - or might not want to have acknowledged. That need happens to be the feeling that in some regard or another, you are superior to others. I must confess that I have wanted to have that feeling a number of times in my life, and I'm sure you have on many occasions as well. Why do we want to feel superior to others? Well, I think it goes back to what I mentioned earlier in this paragraph - a need to feel you are valued. If you are superior in some regard to other people, it stands to reason you will be admired and considered valuable by other people. And you'll feel very good and satisfied with yourself.

It's interesting to look at all the different societies around the world, and see that in many ways that a particular society does the same things as other societies do in order to feel superior. One of those ways is with humor. All over the world, societies tell jokes where the butt of the joke is from another society. For example, you probably know that in the United States, one particular society that has been mined for humor has been the people of Poland. My long time friend Curtis Emde (check out his web site through this link), who taught English in Poland for a stretch, told me that the Poles know of this and are extremely annoyed by being the constant butt of jokes. (I sent Curtis a copy of the classic Mad Magazine article, American Jokes They Tell In Poland, and his Polish students got a kick out of it.) What you may not know is that in Brazil, the Brazilians make fun of the people of Portugal. I've also heard that in Australia, the Australians often make fun of the people of England. So as you can see, the need to feel superior is indeed universal. But what is also interesting is that often in some country or other, there is often also ribbing of fellow countrymen who live in a particular part of the country. For example, as you probably know, in the United States there are a lot of jokes as the expense of the Americans who live in the southern part of the country. Here in Canada there are "Newfie" jokes - jokes making fun of the people of the Canadian province of Newfoundland. I've heard that in Italy, the northern Italians make fun of the Italians who live in the southern parts of the country.

As you have probably guessed, I find this universal need to make fun of others very interesting. Over the years, I have kept my eye out for films that make fun of particular ethnic groups, whether the mocked groups belong to the film's country of origin or not. But I have to confess that often Welcome To The Sticksthese films bewilder me. For example, several years ago I watched the 1972 Australian comedy The Adventures Of Barry McKenzie, a movie making fun of the English as well as certain Australians. It was a big hit in Australia, but to be honest, I didn't laugh at all. Still, I'm glad that I saw it, since I always find another country's idea of humor to be interesting. Which is why I decided to give the French movie Welcome To The Sticks a whirl in my DVD player. The movie was a gigantic hit in France, but barely got a release on this side of the Atlantic. That certainly got my interest up, but what also interested me was the movie being a comic look at a reported French stereotype - the French in the north of the country. I'd never heard of that stereotype before, so my interest was increased even further. The movie actually starts in another part of France, the Salon-de-Provence section in the southern part of the country. It's here that we meet the Abrams family, consisting of Philippe (Kad Merad) and Julie (Zoé Félix) and their young child. Philippe works as a post office manager of the region, something that does not satisfy his wife Julie. Philippe determines that his wife would be greatly cheered up if he were transferred to the French Rivera, so he decides to apply for a position there. As it turns out, Philippe decides to present himself as an appropriate candidate by fraudulent claims he is disabled, and his true status is found out by the top brass. Instead of being fired, Philippe is told he is being transferred to the French community of Bergues, which is the furthest northern town in the country. Philippe does not take this news well, because he regards Bergues as a place with bad weather that's populated by hicks. Julie takes the news even less well, and refuses to accompany Philippe to Bergues. So Philippe reluctantly makes the journey north, dreading what he'll find once he reaches his destination. But Philippe does not know that he'll learn that the stereotypes he believes may not be true at all...

Readers who have read plenty of my reviews will know that when it comes to foreign movies, I sit down to watch them with the same open frame of mind I have when it comes to American movies. But I have a feeling that there are a few people reading this who are alarmed at the mere idea of a movie from France, thinking that all French filmmakers make nothing but boring and pretentious art movies. Well, I think the first thing I should do in this review is to assure those people that Welcome To The Sticks, while a movie from France, is all the same a real movie. I'll start with a look at the technical side of the movie. Although the movie was reportedly made for only eleven million Euros - a lot less than the budget of your typical major Hollywood studio movie - the end results look great. The cinematography is clear, crisp, and more often than not warm and inviting. The sets constructed for the various interiors are convincing. The camerawork is expert, including such luxuries as shots from cranes and even helicopters. The filmmakers even were able to have the opening credits of the movie presented with slick computer graphics. Though the movie doesn't look ultra expensive, its presentation can hold its head up proudly next to typical Hollywood comedies. Speaking of Hollywood comedies, Welcome To The Sticks will also palatable to North Americans in another aspect, its story. When you read the plot description in the above paragraph, I am pretty sure that you could identify with the movie's story. It's not that far removed from what Hollywood has churned out over the years. I could see elements of Doc Hollywood and other Hollywood movies in that plot. True, the setting may have crossed an ocean, but the central plot of the movie is akin to what Hollywood often does very well - universal plots. No matter what country you may come from, you'll be able to identify with what happens to the various characters in the movie.

Yes, it's true that the plotting of the movie is kind of predictable. Philippe is at first upset he has to go to a place he feels is very incompatible with himself, but slowly finds himself falling in love with his new environment and friends, and towards the end of the movie Philippe finds himself in an unexpected crisis that gets him and his new friends to execute an outlandish plan. But I didn't mind the somewhat predictable nature. It's done in an amiable spirit and not in a heavy-handed manner, so it's kind of comforting. Two additional reasons I did not mind the predictability are that the movie is pretty funny (more on that later), but also because the filmmakers threw in some unexpected elements to keep things interesting, one of them being the casting. Unlike your typical Hollywood movie, the main characters are not cast with actors who look like Greek gods. Kad Merad, who plays the main character, is balding and has not shaved for several days. His co-stars also look more like typical people as well. And you know what - that atypical casting works. I was able to more identify with these ordinary-looking people than if Hollywood stars had been cast. It also helped that these characters are written in a way to be more inviting than you might think. For example, take the character of Philippe's wife Julie. In a Hollywood movie, this character's determination for her husband to land a cushy job would have made her out to be a total shrew, one that would eventually be dumped by Philippe after he meets a nice woman in his new work environment. But in this French movie, Julie is given more dimension. Yes, she wants her husband to land a good job because she wants their relationship to work, at one point telling her husband, "You worked so hard I never saw you!" Later in the movie, she eventually realizes that she loves her husband so much, she'll settle with him anywhere, even a place that doesn't meet her expectations.

I feel I should mention that the atypical cast of Welcome To The Sticks does a wonderful job in their roles. Practically every character in the movie comes across as extremely likable thanks to the warm performances - there are almost no negative vibes to be found in the air at any moment. And because their characters are so warm and inviting, I found the many and various attempts at humor throughout the movie to be quite amusing. There are some very funny wacky situations, like a hilarious scene when Philippe finds he suddenly has to pretend he's disabled for a visiting inspector, something he hasn't quite prepared for. There's also an equally amusing sequence when Philippe tries to prevent his co-worker Antione (Dany Boon, who also directed and co-wrote the movie) from getting drunk on his postal route but eventually finds all too well why it happens. But for the most part, the movie wisely doesn't stage outlandish situations - generally the situations are more down to earth. That might not seem to scream hilarity, but I was surprised how often I found these more quiet situations funny. For example, the dialect that the Bergues people constantly speak contributes a lot of hilarious moments (and I must say the writers of the English subtitles on the DVD did a hell of a job translating and keeping the flavor of the dialect.) As I indicated earlier, you'll be able to relate to much of what you see in Welcome To The Sticks, enough so you'll laugh and say to yourself very often, "Yes, I can relate to that." It's no wonder why this movie was a box office smash in its own country, that being that it's "real" in three key ways. First and most obvious, the movie is a real movie. Second, it's real-ly well made. And third, it's real-ly funny.

(Posted February 24, 2020)

Check for availability on Amazon (Download)

See also: Don't Die Too Hard!, The Klutz, Up To His Ears