It would be easy to pick on Up for Love as an offensive movie, but in reality, it’s just useless. It’s a stupid film with a stupid premise done stupidly.
Nothing more than 96 minutes of short jokes and painful stabs at emotional manipulation, this French remake of a 2013 Spanish “romantic comedy” (airquotes used here because it isn’t romantic or funny) from filmmaker and co-writer Laurent Tirard kicks off when successful lawyer, Diane (Virginie Efira), discovers she has lost her cell phone. The kindly, but pushy man who found the phone, Alexandre (Jean Dujardin), says he’ll only give it back if she agrees to go on a date with him. When Diane agrees and arrives, she’s shocked to find that Alexandre is a “little person,” standing only four and a half feet tall.
Let’s set aside for a moment that the swarthy, debonair Dujardin is close to six feet tall in real life, and that Tirard’s bush-league attempts to make the actor look short (setting the driver’s side seat as far back as it will go, having Dujardin act while on his knees, framing him low, or setting him several feet away from his co-stars) look terrible. Let’s set aside that Dujardin has zero chemistry with Efira. Let’s set aside even the obvious offensiveness of the premise because this is a film too idiotic to be offensive.
Outside of stopping for a short pun, visual gag, or insult every thirty seconds or so (something that will have people who hate unfunny comedy screaming for the exits twenty minutes in), with Up for Love Tirard has created a film that says and does nothing. Everything about these characters is set up in record time (they’re both divorced, Alexandre has a tall son and huge dog, she works with her jerk of an ex) and nothing between them gets developed. It’s one cringe-worthy, embarrassing incident after another, but to no end. None of it is funny or transgressive or even potentially in bad taste. Everything sits there to be taken at face value in the cinematic equivalent of watching other people watching paint dry.
There’s something more off-putting about just how enamoured Tirard appears to be with the forced quirkiness of his premise, and as such he forgets to give his cast anything tangible or worthwhile to work with. Scenes where Diane has to argue with her business partner and ex-husband (Cédric Kahn) and their law firm’s illogically backstabbing secretary (Stéphanie Papanian) are amusing only in an oddly painful way. No human being alive acts and reacts the way that these people do, so buying into their squabbles is a fool’s errand. Similarly, watching Alexandre attempt to instill his layabout son (César Domboy) with confidence and self-worth feels like a distraction trucked in from a completely different film. The comically large dog that greets Alexandre by tackling him upon his return home every night has more depth than Domboy’s character has. How can we as a viewers be asked to care about characters so shallow that they can be summed up by single word descriptors.
Naturally, complications arise in Alexandre and Diane’s relationship, and that’s when Up for Love goes from being merely annoying and synthetic in its construction to becoming unbearably heavy handed. A sequence where Alexandre longing looks at a sad clown passing by his office for no reason is one of the worst choices I’ve ever seen in a film, calling out the obvious dearth of original or workable ideas here. The clown is meant to be a reflection of Alexandre’s soul, but it just made me wish I could follow the clown instead of any of the speaking characters. Despite how sad he looked, that clown was assuredly on his way to do something better than what the audience has to watch here.
Up for Love opens at Canada Square in Toronto and International Village in Vancouver on Friday, September 2, 2016.
Check out the trailer for Up for Love: