UK Release Date – 5th August 2016
This sickly-sweet French romantic comedy never quite knows what approach to take with its subject matter, but is strengthened by two consummate lead performances by Jean Dujardin and Virginie Efira.
Up For Love (French title Un homme à la hauteur), directed by Laurent Tirard, is a straightforward love story between Diane (Efira), a lawyer, and Alexandre (Dujardin), an architect who is just four and a half feet tall. In falling for Alexandre, whom many of the characters simply regard as a ‘midget’, Diane must overcome the weight of both internal and exterior prejudice. Everything plays out completely in the manner you would expect. The message of the story is well-worn but unobjectionable, the execution similarly so.
The film’s central casting is a double-edged sword. Dujardin, probably today’s most internationally recognised French-language actor, is nearly 6 foot tall. His character is re-proportioned (very effectively) using digital effects. There is a somewhat questionable ethicality to this decision; it is an argument reiterated in various permutations every time a disabled character is played by an able-bodied actor (see My Left Foot), a trans character is played by a non-trans actor (see The Danish Girl), or even, if you date back far enough, a black character is played by a white actor in blackface (think Laurence Olivier’s Othello). In the case of Up For Love, one of the best retorts is simply Dujardin’s performance.
“its good intentions ultimately outweigh its few misjudgements”
He excels in the role of Alexandre. Suffusing his character with the usual rom-com charisma, Dujardin is also, somehow, surprisingly convincing in his portrayal of a man who has fallen socially victim to his own uncontrollable physicality. Some of the bigger scenes have a tendency to over-egg the emotion (a propensity exacerbated by gratingly on-the-nose soundtrack choices), but in the smaller moments Dujardin’s purpose comes affectingly to the fore. He is utterly believable as a man, by all accounts a brilliant man, who has spent his whole life being underestimated or dismissed. His ability to effectively convey such specific pathos goes a long way towards justifying his casting.
Efira, who is also an anchor on French television, is given a comparatively less interesting role, that of the gradually enlightened protagonist. Nonetheless, she injects the character with charm, energy and, in some scenes in particular, a very convincing sense of internal dilemma.
The film’s biggest flaws are its inconsistencies. The overall message of acceptance and progressiveness is somewhat undermined by the inclusion of weak visual size-based jokes – most notably Alexandre dangling off the edge of a cupboard in an effort to retrieve napkins for a party, and a painfully laughless running gag involving a large and over-friendly dog knocking Alexandre to the ground. There are occasional touches of real visual wit; at one point the camera frames what seems to be a theatre auditorium, only for Dujardin’s character to enter the shot, massive, revealing it to be a model. It is a sharp visual gag and perfectly underplayed. One can only imagine the difference had more of the film indulged such cleverness.
Up for Love is a curious film. Bar a well-written long take in the opening scene, there is little to be found that wouldn’t fit right in to any generic Hollywood rom-com. The subject matter is inherently rich for drama, and it is this foundational complexity that Dujardin taps into. As the film itself massively over-equivocates on its approach to the subject – how comically to regard it, how candidly, how naturalistically – Dujardin is single-minded in his characterisation. The overall result is a film which contains few laughs, offers little in the way of surprise or intrigue, but nonetheless rings emotionally true, and its good intentions ultimately outweigh its few misjudgements.
Image: Soda Pictures 2016