Movie Review: Similar but not matching

"Serial (Bad) Weddings" gives you lots to look at but little to think about.

‘Serial (Bad) Weddings’ gives you lots to look at but little to think about (photo credit: PR)
‘Serial (Bad) Weddings’ gives you lots to look at but little to think about
(photo credit: PR)
Hebrew title: Lama Zeh Magiya Li?
Directed by Philippe de Chauveron With Christian Clavier, Chantal Lauby
Running time: 97 minutes
In French. Check with theaters for subtitle information.
The story of a family with several daughters to marry off is an ancient comedy trope, and with Serial (Bad) Weddings, a new French film, it gets a 21st century twist.
The story is simple. Claude (Christian Clavier) and Marie (Chantal Lauby) Verneuil are a conventional, haute-bourgeoisie couple – the kind of family that Luis Bunuel would have skewered in a devilishly entertaining satire.
But in Serial (Bad) Weddings, a very literal film, they face a straightforward problem. In the new, post-racial world, their daughters keep falling in love and marrying men of very different ethnic backgrounds, not as rebellion but simply because these men are part of the daughters’ everyday lives. Isabelle (Frederique Bel) marries Rachid Benassem (Medi Sadoun), a Muslim lawyer.
Odile (Julia Piaton) chooses a Jewish businessman, David Benichou (Ary Abittan), for her husband. Segolene (Emilie Caen) gets hitched to Chao Ling (Frederic Chau), a Chinese banker.
Claude and Marie try to be happy for their children, but they are baffled and confused by their daughters’ choices. It’s refreshing that their dissatisfaction and alienation from their daughters’ spouses is played for gentle laughs rather than high drama. Perhaps Claude and Marie are casually racist, but they try to be good sports about their sons-in-law. In one scene, at Christmas, Marie prepares three turkeys: one kosher, one halal, and one marinated in Chinese-style spices. The sons-inlaw are quite easy going, and each of them would be perfectly happy with any of the turkeys. That’s part of the film’s message: Although these guys’ backgrounds identify them as being very different from their parents-in-law, they aren’t so different at all.
The focus of the plot shifts quickly to the only unmarried daughter, Laure (Elodie Fontan).
Claude and Marie scheme to get Laure interested in the kind of French Catholic guy they dream of welcoming into the family.
Laure does have a fiancé of her own, and he is Catholic. But if the parents got what they wanted, there would be no movie. And, given the parade of ethnicities, it will come as no surprise to anyone that Laure’s guy, Charles (Noon Diawara), is African from the Ivory Coast. The joke is that his proud parents (Pascal N’Zonzi and Salimata Kamate) are suspicious of French people and are just as dismayed over their son’s impending marriage as Claude and Marie are. The predictable screenplay culminates at Laure and Charles’s wedding in Claude and Marie’s palatial home.
What this description of the plot leaves out is the fact that every frame of the movie is gleaming eye candy. Every actor is extraordinarily good looking, especially the younger generation, all of whom are tall and stunning.
The clothes, in both the formal and casual settings, could come out of a fashion magazine. The babies and toddlers are cute and winsome. The apartments and homes, especially the Verneuil’s, qualify as real-estate porn. The food looks appetizing. Everything and everyone is utterly dazzling.
There are a few funny moments here and there, especially some politically incorrect lines where characters reveal that they believe the stereotypes about each other.
But no one here seems quite real.
Every word, every gesture, every scene is meant to make a point about tolerance, race and convention.
While the movie is diverting at times, the message it tries to convey – we’re all basically the same, in spite of our ethnic and cultural differences – would mean more if there were any characters that resembled real people and if there were any surprises in the narrative. But there isn’t a plot turn that doesn’t announce itself from a mile away.
I have no doubt that this story reflects a changing French reality, and I’d love to see a movie that took a more realistic look at mixed ethnic families in Europe. Like the mind-numbingly preaching Le Prenom, a film in which a couple decide to name their child Adolf and then argue about it with their friends for two hours, Serial (Bad) Weddings is a prosaic lesson done up in pretty clothes.