Family Business, French Comedy on a High

Available on Netflix in the United States, the French series Family Business revisits Jewish humor and stoner comedy, an American genre that features gags with characters under the influence of marijuana.
© Netflix

A six-episode comedy series directed by Igor Gotesman and produced by Netflix, Family Business follows the ups and downs of a Parisian Jewish family, the Hazans. Their members include actors Gérard Darmon (the father, a stickler for tradition) and Jonathan Cohen (the son, a would-be start-up entrepreneur) who decide to transform their struggling kosher butcher shop into a marijuana factory.

The series adopts the codes of the stoner comedy — a typically American genre made popular by the Cohen brothers’ 1998 movie The Big Lebowski and series such as Disjointed and Weeds. “Americans love fish-out-of-water comedies in which you put someone in an unfamiliar environment. In our series, when one of the characters meets a dealer for the first time, without knowing what to do, it creates a comic effect,” says Igor Gotesman, the director of Family Business.

France had already made timid forays into the genre with Les Frères Pétard, a 1986 movie with Gérard Lanvin and Jacques Villeret that has a cult following, and Five, a 2016 comedy also directed by Gotesman, in which actor Pierre Niney sells marijuana to pay his rent.

Aside from references to drugs and political current affairs – Family Business was released as France relaunched the debate on decriminalizing marijuana – the series is quick to play on Jewish clichés with childish jokes – the family’s flagship product is christened “pastraweed,” a contraction of “pastrami” and “weed” – and surreal scenes. In one, the Hazan family avoids being arrested by telling the police that the pig carcass stuffed with marijuana in their kosher meat van comes from a genetically modified animal and needs approval from a rabbi.

The series offers numerous nods to Ashkenazi and Sephardi cultures, and moves past usual divisions. For example, a Hamsa amulet (also known as the Hand of Fatima) hangs on the rear-view mirror in the Hazan family’s delivery van. They also eat mloukhiya, a typical North African dish, and prepare specialties from Western and Eastern Europe such as kishke to mask the smell of the marijuana plants. Yiddish expressions such as “bubbeleh” are mixed with North African Jewish slang, and the series theme song is an electro remix of a joyful piece of traditional klezmer music.

We enjoyed the series for its great acting – particularly from Liliane Rovère, an excellent actress who stars in the series Call My Agent! – the self-deprecating role played by Enrico Macias – a famous singer and a leading figure in Jewish pop culture in France – and the series’ overall transgressive humor. But it falls flat on occasion with its overly caricatural tone and coarse – if not vulgar – jokes. Audiences have given it a big thumbs up, however, and Netflix is working on a second season for next year.

Director: Igor Gotesman
With: Julia Piaton, Jonathan Cohen, Gérard Darmon, Liliane Rovère
U.S. distributor: Netflix

Article published in the October 2019 issue of France-AmériqueSubscribe to the magazine.