“Amelie” was a delightful film, but it has much to answer for when its style and spirit give rise to such an awful imitator as “Love Me If You Dare,” an extravagantly florid romantic comedy in which the lead couple are so self-absorbed and obnoxious that a viewer can barely tolerate their presence, let alone find them charming or sympathetic. Writer-director Yann Samuell apparently wants us to be transported to enchantment by the fantastic fairy-tale he’s contrived here, but most will be moved only to leave the auditorium before the story careens to its wild-eyed end.
The best part of the picture is unquestionably the first twenty minutes, when we’re introduced to Julien and Sophie when they’re eight-year old classmates. Both have problems. The boy, played by the exuberant Thibault Verhaeghe, has to come to terms with the fact that his beloved mother (Emmanuelle Gronvold) is terminally ill and his father (Gerard Watkins) relatively cold and unapproachable. The girl (Josephine Lebas Joly), on the other had, is a Polish immigrant whose parents are largely invisible (only her older sister, played by Julia Faure, appears when a guardian is summoned), and who is constantly bullied by her cruel fellow-students. Julien is the exception: after a particularly bad episode, he shares with Sophie a colorful round box given him by his mother, and before long they’re the fastest of friends, linked by a “dare” game: whenever either of them passes the box to the other, he or she can force the recipient to perform some embarrassing or destructive act. This naturally gets them into constant trouble, to the consternation of Julien’s father in particular, but it makes them utterly inseparable, especially after Julien’s mother dies.
So long as the characters are kids, “Love Me If You Dare” is reasonably diverting, even if the swirling camera moves, buzz cuts and blaring colors give it a thoroughly artificial feel. But after a bit the children abruptly become still-inseparable twentysomethings, now played by Guillaume Canet (a Gallic lookalike for Rob Morrow or Patrick Dempsey) and Marion Cotillard. And they’re still exchanging that damned tin box back and forth and compelling each other to humiliate themselves. Presumably the dare game is supposed to represent the tense but unbreakable bond between them, but for the rest of the picture it comes to seem nothing but a scriptwriter’s dumb affectation, a means whereby these two, who are obviously meant to be together, can irritate the hell out of one another (and, unfortunately, the viewers in the process) and serve as a means of separating them from time to time (at one point Sophie dares Julien to stay away from her for a decade, which he dutifully does). There’s definitely a problem with a romance in which the lovers are intended to appear enchantingly free-spirited when one is inclined to sympathize not with them but with the secondary figures who are inconvenienced or antagonized by their stupid pranks. At one point, for example, Julien clambers atop a stranger’s car, and one wishes that the owner would simply lurch forward and send the jerk onto the pavement. But we’re supposed to be charmed by the couple’s unremittingly selfish, thoughtless attitude and actions. This viewer isn’t. And when the duo gets together again after a decade, their mistreatment of their mates and children, one presumes, is intended to be delightful, but instead it seems repugnant.
Given the nature of the writing, Cotillard and Canet do what they can, but their characters are so inherently unattractive as people that despite their outward good looks, you can’t help but dislike them. The ostentatious visuals may catch the eye for a while, but they soon become as exhausting as the narrative, as does the repeated use of “La vie en rose” on the soundtrack–a gambit that comes across as entirely too familiar.
If you don’t mind paying full price for a short subject, you might check out the first twenty or so minutes of this misbegotten pseudo-romance and then bail out when Julien and Sophie suddenly grow up. But if you dare to hold on to the pointless end, you’ll feel as they you’ve gorged on a piece of garishly colored candy that turns out to have a very sour center.