PARIS — French audiences are now fully embracing their own brand of R-rated comedies with Gaumont’s gross-out adventure laffer “Pattaya,” which has scored an estimated 8.2 million Euros ($9 million) from 1.3 million admissions since its Feb. 24 bow.
Directed by Franck Gastambide, an animal-trainer-turned-helmer, the $11.8 million “Pattaya” drew the year’s second best opening for a French-language film so far, ranking just after “Les Tuche 2 – Le Rêve américain.” Gaumont released “Pattaya” on 307 prints and has just added another 40 playdates.
“Pattaya” turns on two underachievers (Gastambide and Malik Bentalha) and their neighbor, a devout Muslim dwarf (Anouar Toubali), who leave their Paris project to travel to Pattaya in Thailand, where they take part in the world championship of Thai boxing for dwarfs. While in Thailand they get together with a pal (played by popular comedian Ramzy Bédia), an expat from their Paris suburb who’s made a fortune in Pattaya. Another well-known thesp, Gad Elmaleh, plays a crazed Thai boxing master.
The B.O. success of “Pattaya” is notable because the film differs in many ways from most French comedies that tend to boast a certain level of realism and often weave social and/or family themes. “Pattaya’s” cast is almost entirely made up of minorities — many of the actors are French Arabs with North African origins — a French demo still under-represented (or usually confined to secondary roles) in local mainstream cinema; many of the gags relate to Islam; and one of the three protagonists is a devout Muslim who gets tricked by the other two into believing he will get to meet a religious leader while in Thailand — a quite daring narrative considering France is plagued by rising Islamophobia in the post-Nov. 13 attack era; lastly, the film includes loads of jokes about dwarfs.
Yet, in spite of its numerous red flags, “Pattaya” managed to reach mass audiences in France. It earned decent critics since world premiering at the Alpe d’Huez comedy film festival and a satisfaction rate of 83% among all French viewers according to CBO Box Office.
With 192,542 admissions on its opening day, “Pattaya” even outperformed “The Hangover II,” “Babysitting 2,””Serial (Bad) Weddings” and “The Belier Family.”
One of the main reasons behind “Pattaya’s” success is the fact that it reaches young, urban moviegoers who are not so much into traditional French auteur cinema but rather U.S. movies and TV shows. The movie taps into that audience as it’s packed with parodic references to cult American pics such as “Karate Kids” and boasts topnotch production values, having lensed on location in Thailand. Gastambide is also well known among teens and young adults due to the viral success of “Kaira Shopping,” Canal Plus’s first Web comedy series.
“Pattaya” has already surpassed the B.O. of Gastambide’s previous film, “Porn in the Hood” (“Les Kaira”), a raunchy comedy about three friends from the projects who try to make it into the adult industry. Produced by leading Paris-based shingle Mandarin Cinema on a tight budget, “Porn in the House” was already considered a local hit with its 6 million Euros from 955,000 admissions in 2012.
A key purveyor of local comedies, Mandarin Cinema is the company behind Michel Hazanavicius’ “OSS 117: Lost in Rio” and “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” with Jean Dujardin and James Huth’s “Brice de Nice” and its upcoming sequel, also starring Dujardin.