Folie à deux
Love me if you dare
The original French title of Love me if you dare is Jeux d’enfants, which means “children’s games.” Is director Yann Samuell (who co-wrote the script with Jacky Cukier) deliberately invoking Forbidden Games, René Clément’s 1952 film about two children resorting to secret games in an effort to cope with both World War II and the stupid adults around them? The two movies share some superficial elements: two kids, a secret game, a hostile world, a traumatic parental death (the girl’s parents in Forbidden Games and the boy’s mother in Love me if you dare). It’s hard to believe this is only a coincidence, and if it isn’t, it’s an act of colossal arrogance. After all, Forbidden Games is one of the masterpieces of the glory days of French cinema. Love me if you dare doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same paragraph (and I hereby apologize to the memory of Clément for doing it).
But as it happens, it’s hardly necessary to compare Love me if you dare with a great work of art like Clément’s movie; Love me if you dare is plenty exasperating, annoying and unlikable in its own right. The fact that it aspires (if that’s the word) to be a madcap romantic comedy just makes it all the more trivial and irritating.
Guillaume Canet plays Julien, and Marion Cotillard plays Sophie. We first see them as 8-year-olds (played by Thibault Verhaeghe and Joséphine Lebas-Joly, respectively), when Julien gives Sophie a decorative tin to comfort her against classmates who taunted her (shouting, “Dirty Polack!”) as they climbed on their school bus. Then, hoping to please her, he throws the bus into gear and sends it rolling driverless down the street, as the kids scream in their seats.
From that time on, over the years, Sophie and Julien pass the brightly painted tin back and forth, always with a dare. That’s the game: You pass the tin and make your dare (to talk dirty in class, to pee on the floor of the principal’s office, to yank a wedding cake off the table in the middle of the reception and so forth). As Julien and Sophie grow older and enter college, the game becomes more and more dangerous, the dares more extreme, and the outside world ever more excluded from their private universe (another, even better title for the movie might have been Folie à deux: “folly for two”). But by that time, we in the audience have joined the rest of the world on the outside looking in, and we’re just as happy to stay there and let these two selfish nitwits go to hell together. Their game from the start seems cruel to others—what Sophie’s sister ever did to deserve having her wedding reception destroyed is never explained or even hinted at. But in time, the two lovers—for that’s what they are, though they never consummate their relationship and even run off to marry others—turn their cruelty on each other, and their game becomes sickly sadomasochistic.
Gradually, it begins to feel as if Samuell is just using the game Sophie and Julien plays as a metaphor for another game that he is playing with us. He tarts his movie up with snazzy images and saccharine special effects, pretending he’s saying something important about life or love or whatever. But he’s not. And even if he were, we never like or care about these two; they never earn the right to lecture us about their supposed insights.
Part of the problem could be the clumsy translations in the English subtitles. Subtitles are at best a necessary evil. Not even the most diehard foreign-film buff really enjoys reading them; it’s just better than faceless voices and mismatched lips. But in Love me if you dare, the subtitles become hopeless drudgery. A rapid-fire monologue by Julien mentions “eight coitions per quarter,” and it takes us so long to figure out that he means “having sex every 11 days” that we forget what he’s talking about. Does it even matter? Probably not. Are we curious to hear more? Not by that time.
Then again, maybe it’s not the subtitles, but the script itself. Earlier, Julien says, “Friends are like glasses—they make you look intelligent, but eventually they become scratched, and they bore you.” Huh? Could that make sense even in French?
Love me if you dare? Ask me if I care.