|Love Me If You Dare
aka Jeux d'enfants
French language. France/Belgium, 2003. Rated R. 94 minutes.
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Marion Cotillard, Thibault Verhaeghe, Joséphine Lebas-Joly, Gérard Watkins, Emmanuelle Grönvold, Gilles Lellouche, Julia Faure, Laetizia Venezia
|Grade: F||Review by Carlo Cavagna|
t seems Amélie , the biggest international hit in the history of French cinema, is going to be responsible for some damage to the French film industry as other filmmakers make transparent attempts to ride the coattails of its winsome success. Exhibit A is Love Me If You Dare, aka Jeux d'enfants, which means not “love me if you dare,” but “children's games,” a much more appropriate title for this film about two nitwits who stubbornly refuse to grow up. Vibrant colors, stylized scenes, childlike fantasy sequences, an exaggerated style of quick cuts and camera swoops—the influence of Amélie is obvious, which begs the question, “Why do we need another Amélie when we already have Amélie ?” Director Yann Samuell tries to push the envelope further than Amélie by increasing the exaggeration, which only succeeds in making this film unbelievably annoying.
Julien and Sophie are troubled kids—Julien because his mother is terminally ill, Sophie because her family is poor and she's teased for being a “dirty pole-ack” at school. On a dare from Sophie, Julien disengages the parking brake on the school bus, causing it to roll down the street. So the game of dares begins. Julien dares Sophie to curse at the teacher. Sophie dares Julien to take a piss in the principal's office—in front of the principal. Whatever one dares, the other must do. The school separates Sophie and Julien, but their discipline problems continue to escalate, amid various Garden of Eden flights of fancy and Alice in Wonderland references. At her sister's wedding, Sophie dares Julien to say no at the altar if he ever decides to get married. (Gee, wonder if that will ever come up again.) Then they destroy the wedding cake, jettisoning any remaining sympathy the audience might feel for these incorrigible delinquents. (Poverty and terminally ill mothers can only excuse so much.)
Will Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard ever get together???
It doesn't help doesn't help that the two kids (Thibault Verhaeghe and Joséphine Lebas-Joly) are terrible actors whose facial contortions are painful to watch. Moreover, it's obvious the children's roles have been written by adults—especially in such dead giveaways as Sophie's comment during a game of “I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours”—“That's why men earn more than women?” And again, when Julien goes to kiss Sophie, she says, “It's easier to just be friends.” Oh, how blasé and worldly French children are!
Julien's mother (Emmanuelle Grönvold) dies. Though Julien's dad (Gérard Watkins) hates Sophie, he swallows his pride and asks her to sleep over for the boy's sake that night. They sleep in Julien's bed—platonically, of course, lying with their feet in opposite directions. The bizarre transition that follows is emblematic of everything that's wrong with this excruciating film.
They sleep for ten years—or so Julien says—and wake up in the same bed as adults (now played by Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard) in the exact same positions. Samuell has given no thought to what this scene means narratively. Are they now lovers? No. Are they sharing an apartment? No, Julien is still living with his father, who has apparently permitted Sophie to stay the night, even though we later learn that he despises Sophie intensely. So, are they in the habit of having friendly sleepovers? No, it doesn't happen again. What the hell does Julien and Sophie waking up in the same bed ten years later mean? It means nothing. Samuell obviously just thought it was a clever transition, ignoring all possible cinematic implications of putting such a scene in his story.
Anyway, Julien and Sophie are physically adults, but they haven't changed one bit, except that now their game of dares can do a lot more damage than when they were children. For example, Julien has sex with another girl in a bathroom, and persuades her to give up her earrings so he can give them to Sophie. After fooling around with a Dangerous Liaisons -type of story, Samuell moves briefly into My Best Friend's Wedding territory, and then skips ahead several more years, when Julien and Sophie's behavior with their respective spouses becomes so appalling that you will be immediately cured of any empathy you might somehow still have felt for these characters.
The deeper into Love Me If You Dare we get, the less sense it makes. Julien and Sophie are totally obsessed with each other from the time they are children, and the sexual tension between them as adults palpable. Yet Samuell expects us to believe that, even though they have known each other forever, a series of miscommunications and petty resentments prevents them from consummating their relationship. Sophie and Julien fight for unclear reasons and create obstacles for themselves out of thin air.
There's exactly one cool moment in the film: Julien describes the dreariness of his life at 35, concluding that being an adult is like having “a speedometer up to 210 and never going over 60.” However, this colorful monologue is the flimsy basis for all the inexcusable behavior that follows, for which the only possible explanation can be clinical insanity.
The ending, consisting of “the dare of dares,” makes no sense unless you pay close attention to the opening monologue. If you do, you will be rewarded with an ending that… well… still makes no sense. Julien and Sophie's relationship is a concoction that contains nothing recognizable from the lives of real people and no recognizable truth. The emotions are false. The melodrama is hollow. The movie is bullshit.
Review © May 2004 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2004 Paramount Classics. All Rights Reserved.
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