Just Visiting is the American remake of a French film Les visiteurs. The French version was intended for adults and will be reviewed separately. Just Visiting, though it stars the same two actors, has a relatively different plot and is intended for a much younger audience. In this film, Thibault, a 12th century French lord, is sucked into the 21st century through an accident of magic. His servant, Andre le Pate, is sucked along with him. He is found by one of his descendants, who is in negotiations to sell the family property in France, which will earn her sleazy fiancé great big wodges of cash that he will then steal and ditch her. As the relationship between Thibault and Julia develops, he helps her find the courage to defenestrate the scumbag and take control of her life.
Could the historical accuracy of this movie be any worse? It makes some of the worst offenses. We’ll start with Andre the peasant. He sits on the floor eating scraps of food that his master throws to him because this is how it “ought to be,” he is told to run beside his master’s mode of transportation, and it is clearly stated that Andre is property with no value.
Both Andre and Thibault are terrified of bathing. Thibault behaves as if he is used to being an absolute monarch. One gets the impression that he treats animals better than Andre, and Andre believes that this is the just order of the universe. Part of the plot is the hippie gardener next door teaching Andre to throw off oppression and strike out on his own. While Thibault’s attitude could be historically accurate, it is too extreme. Medieval society had the three-part structure and the idea that all men (and women) were equal before God. If Thibault abused his peasants in such a way, not only would he have been breaking many rules of etiquette, but he would also have been misusing the power that God granted to him and his responsibility to care for the people under his protection.
Could a man such as Thibault have existed? Certainly. However, if even a good man (viewers are supposed to think him a good man) like Thibault acts this way, the movie teaches children to believe that this was the norm in the Middle Ages. I expect that the filmmakers used these ideas about the Middle Ages to teach children to value justice—to recognize a bad life situation and to fight it without recourse to hatred. This is a good lesson. Of course I’m going to dislike when it’s taught at the expense of my field.
Perhaps the only worthwhile note is that Thibault values women rather than treating them as property. He adores the fiancée who got left in the past. He teaches Julia to use his sword to find her courage with no doubts about whether women should wield swords or power. Thibault addresses Julia with the hand-kissing courtesy that represents chivalry in movies, but never suggests that Julia is not his equal. Modern viewers will likely appreciate this aspect and suspect to be a historical inaccuracy.
A wizard is Thibault’s means of time-travel. The wizard is the expected robe-wearing spellcasting cinema Merlin; nothing unique here. However, though Andre and Thibault face major culture shock when they reach the present, the wizard is completely comfortable with his surroundings, quickly donning cowboy boots and setting up a new workshop. The wizard teaches us nothing good or bad about the Middle Ages, but is quite entertaining.
I have a secret. I love this movie. I first saw it shortly after it came out in 2001 (I was about 15 at the time), and my family has been quoting it ever since (“It smells like the forest! SMELL IT!”). It’s a terrible movie. It’s childish, the jokes are juvenile, it’s high on toilet humor, it portrays the wrong image of the Middle Ages, and yet it’s still hilarious. Watch it. Enjoy it. Just don’t tell anyone.