WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
You might call Yann Samuell's Love Me If You Dare the dark, petulant sibling of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's wondrous Amelie. If you loved Jeunet's colorfully zany, frothy concoction, you might find yourself (as I was) drawn to this quirky film, which in many ways—despite sharing an elemental Frenchness and a similar visual style—is the antithesis of Amelie. Whereas Amelie is a tale of humorous romantic optimism, Love Me If You Dare ends up as more of a sour, vengeful story about doomed love. And yet Samuell stages his story in a whimsical fashion that suits Amelie far better, making this film seem merely derivative. Here, the effect of the cotton-candy stylings turns Love Me If You Dare into a strange, sickly sweet hypocrisy.
We're introduced to the film's romantic protagonists early in their lives. Young Julien (Thibault Verhaeghe) and Sophie (Josephine Lebas-Joly) are mischievous, rebellious childhood friends who daily confound their parents and teachers by staging intricate games of back-and-forth dares. Predictably, the dares grow more and more eye-opening as time moves cheerfully on, and even hurtful, and the two begin alienating their families and each other. And yet, as they grow older, we gather that there's an undeniable romantic bond between them, which neither will acknowledge, so focused are they on their eternal game. Adult Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard) crash against each other, each searching the other for something beyond the childhood music box that proves to be the symbol of their damaging gamesmanship. There's an odd moment in the center of the film when the dares elevate to supreme cruelty, and Love Me If You Dare never recovers from that moment. Instead of laughing and feeling along with these undeniably attractive people, we're left appalled by their inner selves, that they might submit to such emotional sadomasochism. Beneath the film's candy-colored gloss is a cold blackness that effectively kills any real romance or humor.
As the end credits rolled, I stepped back and tried to contemplate Love Me If You Dare as an "antidote" to Amelie—a film that some (myself not included) consider to be sweetly manipulative and even grossly heartwarming. (I keep bringing up Jeunet's film because comparisons are inevitable on many levels.) Considered that way, Love Me If You Dare offers some acerbic delights, not least of which is a key bait-and-switch betrayal that stings like crazy. But the film never seems to have a firm handle on its characters' feelings for each other, and as a result, we're lost. Does Julien hold Sophie in a kind of vicious contempt, as evidenced by the aforementioned moment of bitter betrayal? Or does he love her with all his heart, as he professes in no uncertain terms as she whisks away, tearfully, aboard a bus? How can we feel anything but contempt for both characters, having seen what they're capable of doing to each other?
I feel quite a bit of regret that Love Me If You Dare ultimately fails. The film has an oversaturated, stylized look that would absolutely kill, given the right movie. Canet and Cotillard make a terrific, mischievous pair, and I only wished their characters were more firmly realized. I'm normally a fan of black comedy, and I'll admit to a ghoulish delight at some of these proceedings, but too many aspects of Love Me If You Dare seem too clunky or under-developed.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Paramount presents Love Me If You Dare in a too-colorful anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. This is a muddily oversaturated effort that seems to be going for a hyper-stylized Amelie look but ends up going too far. There's a preponderance of primary colors, particularly red. Faces are disturbingly orange, and the transfer has an overriding contrasty look. All that being said, detail was good—at least in close-ups and foregrounds. In backgrounds, detail devolves into messy softness, victim to the soaked color palette and over-filtering.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's French Dolby Digital 5.1 track fares better, offering accurate representation of dialog and aural effects. Stereo separation across the front is expansive. Surround activity is fun and aggressive, adding to the film's somewhat forced personality. There's also a French Dolby Digital 2.0 track.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
You get forced Trailers for I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, Northfork, And Now Ladies & Gentlemen, The Reckoning, and The United States of Leland. And that's it.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Worth a rental but no more, Love Me If You Dare is a black-hearted but colorfully skinned trifle that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. The DVD presentation offers a muddy image but excellent audio. Extras are practically non-existent.