Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
FAMILY IS FAMILY (LA CH’TITE FAMILLE)
Though he lives in America, filmmaker Dany Boon has not yet become a household name here as he has in France. Unfortunately, FAMILY IS FAMILY (LA CH’TITE FAMILLE) is still not going to give him that coveted status. Reminiscent of a mediocre comedy from the 90’s, this predictable French farce about coming to terms with the past in order to live a fulfilling future is far less charming than it is pedestrian.
The plot we’re dealt here is pretty basic – and if you’ve seen any movie before, you’ll most likely predict where things are going to go. Valentin D (Boon) is a high-end, highly-impractical furniture designer, running a successful business with his girlfriend Constance Brandt (Laurence Arné). He keeps his private life private, telling reporters he’s an orphan. However, we all sense this isn’t the least bit truthful. He’s just embarrassed by his bumbling, lower-class family and his poor beginnings. Naturally, they pay him a surprise at an event, causing chaos in their obnoxious wake. Just as they’re about to leave, Valentin is involved in an accident and loses his memory, regressing back to age 17. And unless he makes a full recovery in two months, he’ll remain this way permanently.
This film marks sort of a return to Boon’s most successful film to date, WELCOME TO THE STICKS – replete with a cameo from co-star Kad Merad. If you know the patois in which the family communicates (as most French speakers would, since it’s the equivalent to a slurred speech impediment in English), you’ll be attuned to the subtle nuances. But for those with a language barrier, it might not play nearly as well, with much of the precise comedy lost in translation.
Similar to Boon’s other romantic comedy offshoots (like R.A.I.D. DINGUE, SUPERCHONDRIAC and LE PETITE PARFAIT), LA CH’TITE FAMILLE has an overly sappy, sweet earnestness that colors within the lines of the shenanigan-laden romcom genre. With exception of the “you lied to me” moment being defused early on, the trite pattern remains. Boon doesn’t exactly seek to reinvent the wheel.
Like many American romcoms, this one embodies the ever-popular concept of regression as a path to personal progression. Though it’s a clever conceit, Boon and his R.A.I.D. DINGUE screenwriter Sarah Kaminsky don’t add anything new to the formula. It doesn’t mock his brain injury as it does the society that mocks his family’s way of speaking. As soon as the audience sees the coloring pencils, they know that those will serve a major purpose later on. They’re a metaphor for what he’s left behind and his present’s potential gain.
It should be fun to see Valentin drop his snooty attitude, but instead the film exhausts the viewer with slapstick sequences involving skilled physical comedians like Boon and Pierre Richard, who plays Valentin’s father. Scenes showcasing their characters’ ineptness, of course, ties their familial bond together, but overall it interrupts the narrative momentum. That said, it is funny to see a parade of randoms fall off a poorly-designed chair, and other characters complain about needing chiropractors after buying Valentin’s inaccessible furnishings. Taking the piss out of the stuffy high-end art world works here, as Boon plays it as an undercurrent to the broad comedy in the foreground.
While it’s nice to see the family transform from liars into honest people, there’s not enough to tether us to the picture. Maybe if we genuinely cared about these characters, we could almost feel invested. Sadly, we don’t. They provide a few hearty chuckles on occasion, but these people are barely one-dimensional.
This also feels like Boon’s least feminist film in years. SUPERCHONDRIAQUE had it in spades, and R.A.I.D. DINGUE was all about a woman’s determination and fearlessness, but LA CH’TITE FAMILLE noticeably drops the ball. Constance complains about her career being belittled by Valentin to the press, and she’s out to prove herself to her judgmental father (François Berléand), but essentially the buck stops there. Constance is the character forced into the most change, learning Valentin’s regional dialect. Later, Boon and Kaminsky’s script choices have her chasing after Valentin when he flubs the genre’s stereotypical “big meeting,” a.k.a. a large gathering where the protagonist’s hidden shame is exposed.
With predictable hijinks, thin characters, and prosaic lessons, LA CH’TITE FAMILLE isn’t worth investing in. Spend this time with your own family instead – no matter how insufferable they might be.
FAMILY IS FAMILY (LA CH’TITE FAMILLE) played the COLCOA Film Festival on April 24.