"The Exchange Student" won the Golden Ticket in 1967, it was the movie that attracted the highest number of viewers, it also marks the fourth time in a row that this feat is achieved by a De Funès comedy (forgive the pleonasm). Indeed, the last two years were his classic works with Gérard Oury: "The Sucker" and "The Great Stroll" (the most successful French movie of all time before being dethroned in 2008 by Dany Boon's "Welcome to the Ch'tis") and before them, Jean Girault first opus of the "Troops" series: "the Gendarme of St Tropez". Fourth time's a charm. It wouldn't happen in 1968 because you just can't beat Walt Disney "The Jungle Book" attracted 14 million people, twice more than any De Funès movie but still less than "The Great Stroll".
Now, why should I always bring up these ponderous statistics when I review a De Funès movie, to be honest, it's because I don't feel much like reviewing this film and I'm just gaining space and time. But if there's a point I'm trying to make is that De Funès' bankable status had firmly been established, that it happened with two different directors, proved was definitely De Funès' talent that attracted the viewers. But 1967 marks a real turn, the top movies of 64, 65 and 66 were objectively the best and are still regarded as De Funès most defining and iconic works, "The Exchange Student" is a good movie that delivers a fair share of laughs but 'legendary' isn't a word I'd use to describe it.
The film has a nice little premise that allows De Funès not to rely much on his expected gimmicks, you know the over-the-top reactions, the grimaces and gesticulations, he's rather quite restrained and it pays off most of the times. It is also the first film where Claude Gensac plays his wife and the chemistry is obvious and would never lack in their next collaborations (she'll be his wife in the next 'Troops" opus the year after). It also features one of the most defining scores of the 60's as Raymond Lefèvre's tempo carries all the joy and exhilaration of this period, whether we're talking of the summer vacations' start of the sixties in France.
The set up is all well-made, De Funès is a tyrannical head of a prestigious boarding school with a rebellious son who got lousy marks in English so he sends him for an exchange program with an English student. The son wants to sails across the Seine so he sends one of his friends to take his place, meanwhile, the English girl comes and it's a matter of a few scenes before she has a love at first sight with De Funès' son and leaves the school. Worried about the negative publicity, he goes looking for them. The plot bears too much resemblance to his chase after his daughter in "The Troops in New York" or to the designer of his ship in the "Little Swimmer". After two classic road movies with De Funès, the concept starts to wear down a little, and watching De Funès harboring different disguises isn't the kind of roaring laughter material it used to be.
This is not to say that there's not much to enjoy in "The Exchange Student", the film is like a time capsule of an innocent France circa 1967, and it features a few interesting moments of clashes between French and British culture, at a time where France was overflown by the Beatle-mania and the rise of the mini-skirts. The interactions between De Funès and Ferdy Mayne, who plays the girl's father provide some of the film's best moments. But the film is more of a product of its era, a sort of illustration of the kind of movies they used to make, but it doesn't really stand on its own right as a must-see De Fune's movie, you can listen to the score on Youtube, watch a few clips, you wouldn't miss much.
It's so forgettable that I even wish it was a little worse so I could care about explaining while it's not good. But here's an example, there's a funny character in the movie, the housemaid, she desperately wants to show a sailor uniform to the British hosts, which in the context of the film, is a rather incriminating piece. De Funès closes the door on the uniform and she keeps pulling it, naturally, the funniest thing he can do is to open the door. But then, do we need to watch her being pushed down to the bed and lose consciousness, the sight of a door opening and hearing her losing her balance would have been enough, but subtlety has never been Girault's strongest suit. The bar brawl that occurs halfway through the film is another instance asking for our indulgence.
And the film is not even that bad, it just mild and innocent entertainment. Even Olivier de Funès, as the younger son, is being given the ungrateful role of the butt-kisser while he looked nothing like a snitch, he'd have better pairing with his father in the 70's but his presence also indicates that De Funès gained more nepotistic power and influence, but I wouldn't consider him accountant for the film's lack of entertainment, he's actually the best thing about the film, he made me wonder if I wouldn't enjoy a school session with him rather than all the sailing trips with boring, predictable youth.