A smash hit in its native France, "Love Me If You Dare" is a precariously bold, dark but light-hearted comedy about a boy and a girl who grow up together challenging each other to more and more outrageous -- and sometimes even dangerous -- dares.
It's a game they play throughout their lives, much to the frustration and chagrin of parents, teachers, co-workers, lovers, spouses, and increasingly, each other. But it's a game so engrained in the personalities and self-identities of intellectual Julien (Guillaume Canet) and precocious Sophie (Marion Cotillard) that neither one is willing to back down and admit what's really going on -- namely that they're in love.
Trading a knocked-about carousel candy tin back and forth as a symbol of each challenge and a trophy of its completion, the game begins as a welcome distraction from trouble in their childhoods (although every dare seems to get them in more trouble). In their teens it becomes an excuse for embarrassments, pranks and sexual provocation, and in adulthood the dares devolve into emotionally dangerous symbols of their envy, disappointment and disapproval.
At times its hard to sympathize with these two, wondering when they might take a step back and realize that making sport of each other has the potential to ruin their lives -- and especially the lives of others. But writer-director Yann Samuell provides the film a fascinating, Calypso-confectionary atmosphere that speaks to the way these characters desperately, curiously cling to their game as a reliable constant in their lives and a bastion of a certain joie de vivre that, in actual fact, they both lack. The game makes them feel more alive, and Canet and Cotillard capture the fleeting capriciousness that feeds their souls with an oddly unnerving charm.
More curiously and quite audaciously, Samuell also has in store such a novel, unorthodox finale that no matter what your reaction to Julien and Sophie's sometimes amusing, sometimes deeply troublesome pastime, you can virtually imagine their story turning out however you like.