Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
In 1987 we had a big hit picture in Three Men and a Baby starring Ted Danson. Barely more
than a sitcom idea stretched to feature length, the predictable clowning-around and male-angst
comedy concerned a trio of bachelors coping with the 'female' task of caring for infants.
The film was actually an official remake of a French hit not yet two years old, from
writer-director Coline Serreau. The Paris original is a good deal more compelling than its American
followup -- it's a subtler take on the same commercial formula, and a lot more deeply affecting.
Thanks to a mixup, roommates Pierre and Michel (Roland Giraud, Michel Boujenah) are
stuck taking care of a baby left on their doorstep. They have no prior experience and are unable
to contact their third roommate Jacques (André Dussollier) -- to whom the baby was
'addressed' -- all the while fending off drug police interested in another 'package' they received
but didn't expect.
Face it - the appeal of this story idea, American or French, is the "Aaahh" factor: Who is going to
object to a light comedy that gives the viewer plenty of time to enjoy looking at plump, healthy,
happy babies? Three Men and a Cradle only needed a stiff dose of American moralizing to make
the jump across the Atlantic for a quickie remake.
Pierre, Michel and Jacques are three upscale Parisian males able to afford a nice apartment
perfect for their favorite hobby, seducing beautiful women. They host friendly parties that often
end up with some beauty or another staying for the night. It's bachelor heaven on the Seine.
Writer Serreau throws in a pair of coincidental mixups worthy of an episode of I Love Lucy.
Jacques' irate girlfriend simply leaves a baby on his doorstep, with a note saying she's going to
America and will be back in six months. But Jacques is himself gone for three weeks (he's an airplane
pilot on vacation), forcing his roommates to scramble to take care of the kid. Unfortunately, they
mistake little baby Marie (the cutest little pink-cheeked tot imaginable) for another package --
someone is using their apartment as a drop for a small consignment of dope.
The setup avoids becoming offensive for one simple reason, and that's that we're concerned for the
immediate well-being of the kid and identify with the men's scrambling effort to properly take
care of it. True, the incredibly reckless (not to mention unbelievable) abandonment of a baby on a
doorstep is handled far too lightly - that kind of thing happens too much in real life and there's
nothing funny about it whatsoever. Likewise, the think-fast dodges the boys go through to hide the
drug shipment from the cops don't mix very well with the basic story. After that episode passes,
we're more than entertained with the way the boys solve their more down-to-diapers problems.
That's what the French movie does far better than the mawkishly mechanical US remake. The men
become dedicated pros tending their little Marie, and bond with her quite seriously. The
later stages of the tale don't bother with trying to make Marie legitimate or finding a husband for
her ditzy mother, a model who parks her in hallways while attending auditions. By the end of the
show we're in a quite satisfying Three Godfathers situation, and Marie has not one but a
trio of doting father figures.
The only downside to the story is obvious - exaggeration or not, it's not all that pleasing to see
a baby being put at risk, even as a joke. The movie never does manage a tone where we accept
jeopardy as part of its relaxed and natural flow. Or maybe that's just the attitude of a protective
father. A modern American comedy would think nothing of putting a baby in the path of an oncoming
steam roller, if its makers thought it might get a laugh.
Ms. Serreau's direction is very smooth, as is the lush photogaphy by Jean-Jacques Bouhon and
Jean-Yves Escoffier. I would bet that one of them is a professional baby-wrangler charged with
engineering the many charming moment with little Marie -- the matching with the
rest of the scenes is excellent. Even in her facial expressions and baby-talk, by the end of the
picture Marie begins to seem definitely French.
André Dussollier, who plays the supposed birth father of
Marie, is notable in the starring role in Claude Lelouch's
Toute une vie, and as the
crippled artist in the more recent Amélie. His artistic
roommate Michel Boujenah has a great role as a refugee hiding from the Nazis in Claude Berri's
1995 Les Misérables (which Warners really needs to grace with a DVD release).
Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu is compellingly inconsistent as the errant
mother. Nobody could make the baby-abandoning part of the role work, but she's convincing both as a
gorgeous model and as a tearful single working woman who can't cope with her responsibilities.
The movie never says as much, but it makes a nice case for a Utopian world in which both male and
female adults are involved in caring for children, no matter whose babies they might be.
Home Vision's DVD of Three Men and a Cradle is a pleasingly attractive presentation in
perfect condition. The enhanced image is sharp, brightly colored and free of blemishes. The audio
track is equally clear.
Director Serreau appears in a thoughtful interview, explaining that her story was prompted by
an interest in the changing domestic roles of men.
A 'video lullabye' takes the song Au clair de la lune from the film and makes it into
montage of baby moments. A brief collection of scenes and statements around the film's
Toy Giraffe shows tiny on-camera glimpses of Roland Giraud and Michel Boujenah, indicating
the possibility of a longer docu that didn't make it to this Region 1 disc. The French trailer
uses a specially staged sequence of a beautiful woman dropping off a baby in a basket. We know it's
a special shoot because neither the lady nor the basket match what's in the film proper.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Three Men and a Cradle rates:
Supplements: Coline Serreau interview, brief featurettes Au clair de la lune
and Toy Giraffe, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 29, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2005 Glenn Erickson
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