Love Me if You Dare (France, 2003)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Those who have been waiting for the "next Amelie" may have found it with Love Me if You Dare - at least after a fashion. However, in place of the wry sweetness of the film that catapulted Audrey Tautou onto the international stage, this movie is a little darker and less wholesome. It's a romantic comedy, but, unlike most genre entries, this one explores love not as a redemptive force, but as a potentially destructive one. Yet, even as the characters are humiliated and put through extreme anguish, we find opportunities for laughter, and the whimsical tone never devolves into something uncomfortable. As with Amelie, suspension of disbelief is critical. Love Me if You Dare doesn't happen in a world anything like the one we live in, and its most memorable sequences are wreathed in fantasy.

Love Me if You Dare is innovative and offbeat enough that, when I saw it at last year's Toronto Film Festival, I was concerned about its distribution prospects. The film requires a commitment from viewers, so it will never become a big success, even by art house standards. But if has a chance to find a niche, and, if that happens, it will reward Paramount Classics for taking a chance on it. Presented with a bite by writer/director Yann Samuell, the film defies predictability. The moment you think you know how things are going to go, they take a turn in a different direction. And the ending may be the most original part of the entire production. I can't recall any romantic comedy concluding on such a note of finality.

Julien (played by Thibault Verhaeghe as a child and Guillaume Canet as an adult) and Sophie (Josephine Lebas-Joly, Marion Cotillard) have been friends since childhood, when Julien played a trick on a bus full of kids who were teasing Sophie. From that day, the two have engaged in an elaborate game of dares and counter-dares, with the objectives becoming increasingly outrageous as the protagonists grow to be teenagers, then adults. Although Julien and Sophie share a deep bond that goes beyond a conventional friendship, and it seems inevitable that they will one day end up together, obstacles continuously block their paths, and the sexual aspect of their relationship is not consummated. But still the dares continue, until they become so monumental that they inflict emotional pain and distress.

The performances by Canet and Cotillard are wonderful; these two make one of the most delightful screen couples in recent years. Cotillard is radiant and Canet displays the suave insecurity that has, for many years, been Patrick Dempsey's trademark. With a smart script, superlative performances, and some of the most audacious and black-edged comedy of any romance, Love Me if You Dare deserves to be seen by more people than those who will buy tickets. If you like romantic movies but find Hollywood's increasingly sterile formulas to be a poisonous bore, Love Me if You Dare offers an antidote.

Love Me if You Dare (France, 2003)

Run Time: 1:33
U.S. Release Date: 2004-05-14
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: English subtitled French
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1