Most helpful positive review
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The most successful film in the history of French cinema
on February 23, 2009
This film has become the most-seen (among the French themselves) film in the history of French film. In fact, has been seen by more French than any other film - period. It's funny, warm, and inclusive, and holds a mirror up to French viewers to allow them to laugh at their own clichés about regional differences. The fun ranges from slapstick to very sophisticated verbal punning, based on the more-or-less incomprehensible (even to most native French speakers) regional dialect of the North of France. The puns and misunderstandings are legion, and have Francophone audiences howling with laughter in the theaters. What about non-French-speaking viewers? Well, in fact, the English-language subtitles are superb, and succeed in capturing the flavor of the humor, at times choosing an analogous joke which works well in English, rather than a direct word-for-word translation which would fall flat. (Dany Boon, the film's writer and director - and one of its lead actors - is reported to have stayed involved with the production of the subtitles, indicating his desire to have the film's communication with Anglophone viewers be as rich as possible.)
To be brief, the humor succeeds both in revealing regional cultural differences very particular to the French, and also in playing with the basic idea of strangeness in a culturally neutral fashion. Evidence to that last assertion is the fact that the rights to re-make the film in the USA - and, presumably, to reset the action in an American frame - have been bought by Will Smith's production company.
There are several other emotionally deeper subplots which make the film richer than just an exercise of the smiling muscles. The relation between the two male leads moves from initial bias, awkwardness, and distrust to a genuine emotional (not sexual) intimacy, which allows both men to find the tools to resolve fundamental relationship issues with their respective female partners. Those three stories are somewhat predictable in their trajectories, which doesn't mean at all that they lack emotional power. Classical plot devices have become classics because they work; these plots have a germ of truth within them that allows us to remain interested in the particulars of how these individual people are going to fix their broken communications, to allow the resolution of the difficulties which are the motors of these plots.
Although it's been nonsensically claimed that "20 million Frenchmen can't be wrong," in this case, they're not, and the film invites you to participate whether you're a French-speaker or not. (Yes, I know: "50," not "20." But 20 million is the box in France as of this writing.) Very highly recommended.