Up For Love is a feel-good French rom-com that messes with physical stereotypes and peddles the naive but seductive line that love conquers all. I found it charming, until…
I’m a little bored with writing formal reviews as if they were to be published in a newspaper, so I’m taking a different tack with this one of Up For Love. See, I’m usually confident in my movie assessments, but on this occasion I was taken aback by some post-screening peer discussion that had me reconsidering my findings. The post that follows is an attempt to process this.
I am not generally swayed by others when assessing a film. I usually take a while to figure out my response and the reasons for it, and during that gestation period avoid reading other reviews. Once I’ve posted mine, I might have a look at Rotten Tomatoes. Most of the time I am in general agreement with the majority consensus, but it’s not so uncommon that I find myself on the outer. Elle and Mustang spring immediately to mind. No one is going to change my mind on those two. Both were problematic for me, and I was sure of my ground. I was bemused at discovering that I was off-side with most critics. Mustang, especially, was raved about, almost universally acclaimed. None of the reviews I read had me doubting my stance. I suppose that amounts to saying I believe the reviewing world got it wrong, and that I was right. Is that arrogance or ego talking? I don’t think so. Read my review and the reasons for my assessment are clear and I believe solid.
It’s possible for two reviewers to diverge without one being right and the other wrong – it’s all just opinion, after all, and comes down to taste, correct? Well, yes about the two reviewers. The rest is a populist argument that I oppose. I think there is such a thing as informed opinion, that critical thinking and specialist knowledge come into it, that expertise is real, and that to dismiss that in the cause of some sort of democratisation of opinion is rationally insupportable (albeit endemic today), serving only to promote mediocrity. To acknowledge expertise and privilege informed over uninformed opinion should not invoke charges of elitism, either. I am contemptuous of elitists. But I am also contemptuous of the mediocrity and dumbing down that derives from the frankly stupid assertion that one person’s view is as valid as another’s in all matters (climate change deniers, I’m lookin’ at choo).
Sure, movie criticism is a greyer area, but expertise is expertise in any field. Good criticism – relatively rare – is still just opinion when it’s reduced to its bare bones. But it’s truly informed opinion arrived at through sound analysis, which is where the real expertise comes in. The web is full of pretenders who posture as experts. So how to tell a fake from the real deal?
Fakes write as authorities. They show off their supposed knowledge, never admit to not having seen a director’s previous work, are full bottle on everything. They over-write, impress themselves. They are fond of referencing canonised films, whether appropriate or not. They make their pronouncements with unshakeable conviction (and always in alignment with the majority of other critics). The smugness, self-righteousness and self-satisfaction come through. It’s as if they are keepers of privileged knowledge, which they dole out benevolently to their less sophisticated readers. They are like the old-fashioned teacher who presents themselves to their class as the font of all wisdom, never admitting to not knowing anything, never having to look something up. Good critics neither self-promote nor seek to impress. Their purpose is honourable. They seek to understand why they arrived at an assessment, and to articulate that to themselves and their readers. Ego and self-promotion are absent from the equation. They write to divine their own truths, and share their findings. Ultimately, they serve their readers, not themselves.
Me? I have relatively advanced reasoning and analytical skills, but I do not rate myself as a great reviewer – I do not have the depth or breadth of film knowledge of a bona fide expert. I’ve pursued a serious interest in quality films all my adult life. However, I do not immerse myself in cinema, and am not interested enough in film history to have acquired the knowledge of a true expert. And I see no point in pretending to expertise I have no real claim to. I detest fakes and show-offs. I value honesty and authenticity.
File me as an amateur reviewer who takes the task seriously. That is, I put a lot of time and effort into thinking out the reasons for my assessment of a movie, and extracting clear evidence for my stance from the source text. All very earnest and commendable-sounding, but do not be misled. You cannot trust me, nor I myself. There are times my critical faculties short-circuit for one reason or another. I might thoroughly enjoy a movie while missing glaring deficiencies others pick up, for instance. Such is the case, I am forced to acknowledge, with Up For Love.
I was particularly receptive to this well-intentioned, breezy and often farcical French rom-com. It happened to be a perfect fit for my mood on the night (and make no mistake, external factors such as the reviewer’s emotional state, health, politics and personal baggage cannot be entirely removed from the assessment equation). The basic synopsis: a guy 4 feet 6 inches tall (Jean Dujardin) and a gorgeous lawyer (Virginie Efira) fall in love, and negotiate a challenging path to a happy ending through confounded society and family expectations and their own small-man-taller-woman issues. I smiled and chuckled my way through the screening, was charmed, even moved. By credit roll, I had decided it was one of the feel-good flicks of the year. Full of enthusiasm, I shared this finding with a couple of people whose views I respect, one a newspaper reviewer I rate highly, and… crunch!
Both complained of being distracted by the terrible scaling. This, after I wondered aloud whether the actor who played the short guy was really so short! I’m not big on actors. Jean Dujardin’s face was vaguely familiar, but I wasn’t sure I’d seen him in other films until being reminded he played the lead in The Artist. So of course CGI had been applied to shrink him, apparently far from seamlessly. I hadn’t noticed any scaling problems, except that in some scenes his head had maybe looked a bit small. Maybe? Check out this still shot from the movie:
Here the wonky scaling is obvious, and there are doubtless numerous other such instances, yet I’d missed them all. How? Immersion in the story, I guess.
Dodgy SFX are one thing, but Up For Love is a rom-com, not a sci-fi or fantasy piece where sophisticated and well-executed digital artistry really matters. What about the delightful rapport between the leads? Yeah, but…
But the PIC midget jokes.
I’m not hung up on political correctness, but had to acknowledge that some of the height-related humour was puerile and inappropriate. Then there was the slapstick. I didn’t mind it. It was in keeping with the light-hearted tone and style of the movie, and the French do it well when they get it right, as I think they mostly do here. But I had to agree that a recurring gag in which a large dog bowls over its minuscule master every time he comes home did get irritating.
Post this confronting discussion, I checked Rotten Tomatoes and was greeted by a page full of splats. That would not usually phase me. As stated above, I’m accustomed to dissenting from the popular critical view every so often. This time, though, confidence a little shaken, I read through a few of the reviews, and found myself nodding in agreement with the criticisms. I will not detail them all, and some I thought harsh, but there is one that is important and valid, with which I cannot argue.
That is, why cast Jean Dujardin in the lead male role? Why not an actor who really is unusually short? Blackface has long been a no-no and justly so. How is the casting of an actor of standard height like Dujardin in the role of a physically stunted man any different in principle from blackface? Of course, it is not. Further, as one of the Rotten Tomatoes critics suggested, a digitally altered Dujardin is palatable to audiences in a romantic role, whereas a 4 foot 6 inch actor? Sadly, maybe not. The casting choice of Dujardin rather undercuts the message of the film, then, doesn’t it (ie: that love conquers physical abnormality and all else)?
And as another reviewer pointed out, Dujardin’s stunted character was virtually perfect in every other way to compensate for his physical deficiency. Says a lot, doesn’t it?
So, I’ve changed my assessment. I can no longer declare Up For Love a feel-good charmer of a rom-com. I can only say I enjoyed it a lot, but in hindsight must conclude that on this occasion my critical faculties were short-circuited by my mood.
Some might perceive this shifting in position as weak, and I acknowledge it is humbling, but if I am to be authentic and honest – and as mentioned, these are values I prize – I have no choice but to revise my initial impressions. Yep, I’ve changed my mind. Yep, I’ve been influenced by others. Weakness or openness? Maybe both. But you know, there is a freedom in admitting you got it wrong. It’s really kinda liberating. Infallibility is for fakes, and whatever else I am I hope and trust that I am not that.
I still reckon many will enjoy Up For Love, as I did. Virginie Efira is gorgeous and charming, and she and Dujardin play well off each other. There are some laughs to be had. And the film is well-intentioned. Just make sure you go in an up frame of mind, and don’t think too much about it (if you’ve read this far, that advice comes too late – sorry).
Up For Love features: Jean Dujardin, Virginie Efira, Cédric Kahn
Director: Laurent Tirard
Writers: Laurent Tirard, Grégoire Vigneron (adapted from Marcos Carnevale’s original screenplay for the film Corazon de Leon)
Runtime: 98 min
Australian release date: 1 Dec 2016 (@ Cinema Paradiso in Perth)
For complete list of film reviews published on this site see Movie Review Archives