It’s Friday the 13th, but that’s no reason to avoid the movie theater. The Oscar-nominated Canadian film Monsieur Lazhar is finally out today and, from the reviews, it’s well worth the risk. You would be smart, however, to avoid The Three Stooges, a distressingly inane comedy that’s not even very funny. Should you decide to press your luck though, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Winner: Monsieur Lazhar
An impressive feature debut from director Philippe Falardeau, Monsieur Lazhar was the Canadian nominee for best foreign language film at this year’s Oscars. Though it eventually lost to Iran’s A Separation, it’s still a winner in many ways. The Wall Street Journal, called it “enthralling,” and noted the “quiet beauty” of the Algerian comedian Mohamed Fellag as the titular teacher leading his middle school class through a difficult time. The New York Daily News said the film was “gentle and knowing without ever getting into Dead Poets Society schmaltz.” The AV Club found it “as believably wrenching, and finally cathartic, as the grieving process itself.”
Many critics praised Falardeau’s ability to direct a cast mostly composed of non-professional children, especially the performances he coaxed from Émilien Néron and Sophie Nélisse as Simon and Alice, two children who are particularly shaken by the suicide of their previous teacher. The Village Voice called them “extraordinary” and Boxoffice, “irresistible.” The New York Times wrote that they “come quirkily alive in superb naturalistic performances devoid of cuteness and stereotyping.” But in the end, the performances are just some of the many pieces that add up to a movie that the Globe and Mail summed up as an “exquisite, humanistic, and subtly topical work of cinema art” that “takes you through a breadth of human experience that makes it truly unforgettable.”
Loser: The Three Stooges
It seems the best that can be said of this update on the classic comedy trio of Larry, Curly, and Moe is that it does not aim any higher than it should. Directed by the Farrelly brothers, who know from on-screen idiocy (Dumb & Dumber; Me, Myself & Irene; Shallow Hall), the film is, per the Globe and Mail, “a moronic celebration of slap shtick.” The Austin Chronicle called it “a work of near-existential pointlessness,” while Rolling Stone wrote that the movie, which suffers from repetition and an overly-complicated backstory, “can seem like an eternity.” Even those who found the film “amusing” and “appealing,” as the Los Angeles Times did, acknowledged that “to fully appreciate this paean to slapstick and silly nonsense requires that the thinking side of the brain be shut down.” And Owen Gleiberman in Entertainment Weekly, while assigning a surprising A- grade, admitted, “I chuckled in amusement more than I laughed out loud,” a troubling reaction to what is surely meant to be a full-out riot. But the fatal last word goes to the San Francisco Chronicle, which called the movie not just the death of comedy, but “the death, burial, putrefaction, and decomposition of comedy. It is where comedy, once alive, ends up as dust blowing in the wind, like something out of a really bad Kansas song.”