Guillaume Canet as Julien
Marion Cotillard as Sophie
Thibault Verhaeghe as Young Julien
Joephine Lebas Joly as Young Sophie
Emmanuelle Gronvold as Julien’s Mother
Gerard Watkins as Julien’s Father
Gilles Lellouche as Serguei
Julia Faure as Sophie’s Sister
Laetizia Venezia as Christelle
Julien and Sophie are life-long friends who have built their relationship around a childhood game of challenges and dares. At first, the game consists of an innocent series of pranks, but as the two get older, the games get more malicious and dangerous, complicating their relationship with each other and everyone around them.
Just when you think that French cinema has nothing new to offer, along comes Yann Samuell’s unconventional and twisted romantic comedy, which takes the tenets of the genre and turns them on their ear. The brilliant yet simple premise of two close friends who try to top each other with a child’s game makes the movie more than your typical romantic comedy, allowing for many amusing moments as well as setting the groundwork for a rather complex relationship. While the dares are far from innocent at first-like saying bad words in class or peeing on the principal’s floor–things get more complicated as they get older. Sophie challenges Julien to sleep with a classmate and take her earrings as a trophy, and feelings like jealousy are brought into the mix. The game leads to lengthy splits between the two friends, but the longer they’re apart, the more obsessed they get with continuing the game. The final “dare of dares” is shocking and touching at the same time.
You can’t have a proper love story without a romance that audiences can relate to, and the two young actors do a wonderful job creating a believable lifetime bond between Julien and Sophie. Both of them need to show these characters at a wide range of ages, and even when the story jumps forward ten years to their thirties, they don’t lose a beat. Sophie is clearly the more complicated of the two characters with her quirky look at life and love. It’s the type of role that would usually go to Audrey Tautou, but it’s nice seeing a fresh face as Marion Cotillard brings more personality to the role with her delivery. Guillame Canet, best known in the States from Danny Boyle’s The Beach, strikes more than a passing resemblance to American 80’s star Patrick Dempsey, and he brings a similar charm to the role. The amazing on-screen chemistry between these two is something rarely seen between young stars these days, and it makes their relationship special and wonderful.
Yann Samuel pulls everything together with his unique vision, giving the movie a unique look and feel that is darker and more cynical than the typical love story. Using innovative filmmaking techniques, he gives the childhood and later adult segments a sense of the surreal to represent Julien’s creative imagination. The soundtrack for the friendship is the French folk song, “La Vie En Rose”, which is represented with a number of different versions to show the different eras.
Obvious comparisons will be made to Jean-Pierre Jenuet’s Amelie, another quirky romantic comedy that delved into the realms of fantasy, but Samuell’s influences stretch far beyond French filmmakers, veering closer to the cutting edge filmwork of David Fincher, Terry Gilliam and Danny Boyle. Samuell throw in a number of visual references from other films, both modern and classics, as well.
Although parts of the movie are cute, it never gets overly sweet or sentimental. Nods to conventional European drama, like the touching scenes between the young Julien and his dying mother, are well done, and the dysfunctional triangle that forms between Julien, his father, and Sophie is decidedly fresh and original. Despite what is usually a formulaic genre, Love Me If You Dare rarely gets bogged down in cliché and even when story look like it’s about to turn into a typical French love story, Samuell turns the tables once again. Even the more typical scenes-like the two lovers confronting each other in the rain-are given a unique twist, and the passage of time is shown in an interesting way to link together the different segments of the story. It is all even more impressive when you realize this is Samuell’s first film due to his sophisticated way of telling the story. He throws so many twists into the mix as Julien and Sophie try to top each that the movie never gets predictable.
Samuell’s odd look at romance and friendship won’t be for all tastes, especially for those set in their notion of the way a love story should be told. The enigmatic ending leaves things a bit open for interpretation, something that will frustrate even those who were able to keep up with the story’s many twists and turns beforehand.
The Bottom Line:
This inventive movie may very well be one of the most original movies to come out of France since Amelie. It’s the type of movie that some enterprising Hollywood producer will want to remake in English with big name stars, inevitably changing all of the things that make this movie so wonderful and unique. Either way, Sammuell’s beautiful film is far from the typical love story, bringing new life to a rather tired genre, and his warped vision is a welcome addition to French cinema.
Love Me If You Dare opens in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday and expands to other cities on May 28 and June 4.