The issue of casting can have an impact on your interpretation and enjoyment of a film even before you start watching it, especially when it concerns characters that are minorities. Whether they be minorities due to their race, gender identity, sexual preference, or physical impairments, a certain amount of authenticity is lost when someone outside of this minority is cast in the role.
It’s the age-old conundrum. Actors want to be stretched and tested, and audiences love seeing them transformed into demanding roles. Then there are the awards bestowed on such performances. So for all the controversy that marks the casting in such films as The Danish Girl, The Dallas Buyers Club, Dr Strange and The Theory of Everything, putting able-bodied, cisgendered, heterosexual, caucasian actors into these roles seems to pay off commercially.
Which brings us to Up For Love, the story of a 4-foot 5 inch man and his burgeoning romance with a woman considerably taller than him. The man in question is played by Jean Dujardin, a talented and charismatic actor, to be sure, but he’s nudging 6 feet.
Of course, part of the built-in comedy for the audience is seeing the Oscar winning actor digitally shrunken to fit the part. This is the visual hook that the entire film is based around. No doubt getting the French equivalent of Peter Dinklage would’ve completely changed the tone of the film.
Anyway, let’s try and put the casting aside for a minute and talk about the plot. Solicitor Diane (Virginie Efira) leaves her phone at a cafe, Alexandre (Jean Dujardin) picks it up and finds her home number on it and calls her. He proceeds to charm her enough to organise a coffee date to return her phone.
At the cafe she’s visibly rattled that the guy she was so excited about meeting is a good 14 inches shorter than her. Even so, he has confidence to burn and persuades her to go skydiving, of all things.
And so begins a whirlwind romance, which proceeds well enough until Alexandre points out that Diane hasn’t introduced him to any of her friends yet. She claims she isn’t embarrassed by him, but clearly she is. With a fair amount of discomfort, she introduces him to her mother and stepfather. From there things get rocky as Diane fails to deal with how they appear as a couple, both to herself and to those around her.
In the great tradition of rom commery, this is the sticking point that keeps them apart despite their attraction to each other.
The two golden rules of rom commery are 1. you have to want the couple to be together, and 2. you have to laugh. On the first count, there isn’t an ounce of credibility that Alexandre and Diane are a couple, and not because of the physical difference. There’s just no chemistry between the actors, and nothing in the writing to suggest an attraction. On the second count, I’m pretty sure I didn’t crack a smile once. Director Laurent Tirard, whose previous films don’t get any more sophisticated than an Asterix and Obelix entry, relies heavily on long shots of a reduced Dujardin sitting in oversized chairs. There’s also a running gag (literally) of the household dog bowling him over.
Dujardin is a gifted physical comedian, and he’s certainly a handsome leading man, but the material gives him nothing to work with. Likewise Efira, seen recently in Elle, is attractive and has shown comic smarts in previous films, but there’s little shading to her character.
So while one could quibble about the casting of the leading man, the truth is, nothing was going to save Up For Love from being an absolute dud of a film.
Strangely, this is the third version of the film, after two South American efforts. Let’s hope there isn’t a Hollywood remake coming any time soon.
Up For Love is in release from December 1
Richard Leathem @dickiegee