Must Humor Be Politically Correct?

To please their wives, the three non-Catholic sons-in-law get into the Christmas spirit at their in-laws' home. (cineuropa.org)

To please their wives, the three non-Catholic sons-in-law get into the Christmas spirit at their in-laws’ home. (cineuropa.org)

Rom-Coms are my favorite kind of movies. Yet Hollywood’s releases have become increasingly formulaic, unfunny, and anything but romantic. (Is Bridesmaids really the best we can do?) So, I was thrilled to encounter Serial (Bad) Weddings at the Washington Jewish Film Festival a few weeks ago.

The French film, subtitled in English, is uproariously funny. That is, if you’re willing to laugh at some seriously politically incorrect humor. And it must be asked: In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, are Western audiences still willing—and able—to do that?

The Jewish Daily Forward reports:

Released in France last year under its original title, Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu? (literally, What Have We Done To God?), the movie grossed more than $104 million in its native country, becoming the highest grossing film of [2014].

But speaking to French magazine Le Point last fall, [movie distributor] TF1 head of sales Sabine Chemaly said agents in the U.S. and U.K. had deemed the film too politically incorrect for the English-speaking market.

Do American and British audiences have more delicate feelings than the French? British audiences I can’t claim to know. But as The Forward notes, “The WJFF [Washington Jewish Film Festival] crowd”—this writer among them—“ate up the film, laughing uproariously at the characters’ antics.”

Given the success of Comedy Central’s long-running adult cartoon South Park, it’s hard to believe that American audiences would blanch at this film. South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Broadway musical, The Book for Mormon, has also earned more than $300 million since opening on Broadway in 2011. If we assume that consumers speak with their time and their wallets, Americans are comfortable with Stone and Parker’s politically incorrect humor.

Serial (Bad) Weddings is similarly irreverent. However, unlike South Park, the language is clean, and the tone is humorous, not crude. Yes, the movie pokes at offensive stereotypes and prejudices, but it does so light-heartedly. It also plays like a modern-day Fiddler on the Roof.

In this case, though, the father is not Tevye the Jewish milkman looking to marry off his daughters. Tevye’s story simmers with dramatic tension because his daughters rebel, choosing men who increasingly stray from Tevye’s vision of the ideal husband.

Serial (Bad) Weddings transports Tevye’s tale of parental woe from Tsarist Russia to modern-day, multicultural France. The movie has universal appeal precisely because every parent has a mental image of his child’s ideal mate. Of course, in the modern era, when we’ve dispensed with arranged marriage, there’s no guarantee that a parent will approve of the spouse a daughter chooses. This movie does a marvelous job of mining that dissatisfaction and the attendant complications for laughs.

Claude and Marie Verneuil (Christian Clavier and Chantal Lauby) are the French Catholic parents who watch with increased agitation as their four daughters marry men they would never have chosen as sons-in-law. In the opening scenes of the movie, the three oldest daughters marry an Arab, a Jew, and a Chinese man in quick succession. That series of (less than entirely happy) occasions launches the movie’s action and drives the parents to retreat from their daughters’ and grandchildren’s lives.

What truly unites the family is their reaction to the fourth daughter’s engagement. The Verneuil parents, who had held out hope that she would marry a local boy, are disappointed to learn she is engaged to an African man, and for a time, the three brothers-in-law do their ridiculous part to keep the new fiancé from joining their club. Equally hilarious is the reaction of the Ivorian groom’s parents to their son’s marrying a French woman.

Of course, this is a fundamentally a warm and light-hearted movie. So, while the jokes may be incredibly ethnic, they are funny, not mean-spirited. Everyone is tweaked, but most especially the French parents. In many ways, this is their movie. And can’t we laugh at them (and ourselves) anymore?

The real scandal is that more Americans don’t know this movie exists, because more would clamor see it. It’s the first time I’ve laughed aloud continually at a movie in so long I can’t even remember.

If you like to laugh, do yourself a favor and check out Serial (Bad) Weddings. These are the four best bad weddings you’ll ever attend.

This article appeared in Acculturated.

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