It takes an unusual level of confidence, or foolishness, to begin a movie as Love Me If You Dare begins—with a whiplash back and forth between a candy-colored shot of an out-of-control school bus and a scene of a mother learning she's dying of cancer—and hope it all works out in the end. In the case of Love Me If You Dare, it doesn't. A serving of soured whimsy, the film takes place in a cartoony world borrowed from Amelie and endorses a distrust of social conventions borrowed from too many screenings of Fight Club. Watching it is a bit like watching a stuffed bunny read Thus Spake Zarathustra.
Unfolding over several decades, the film follows a childhood game kept up into adulthood by two opposite-sex friends (played as 8-year-olds by Thibault Verhaeghe and Joséphine Lebas-Joly, and as adults by Guillaume Canet and Big Fish's Marion Cotillard). Vying for possession of a tin merry-go-round, they trade it back and forth while fulfilling a series of authority-flouting dares, as the soundtrack blares every version of "La Vie En Rose" known to humanity. Challenges that begin with mouthing off to teachers and urinating on floors become assignments of sexual conquest, public humiliation, and random acts of senseless violence. It's a way of life as messy as it is thrilling, and when it becomes obvious that the couple can no longer subsume their attraction for each other into the game, their lives get messier still.
Love Me If You Dare (otherwise known as Child's Play) at least scores points for unpredictability. It's never clear what the two players will attempt next, and their try-anything spirit spills over into the film: Director Yann Samuell has a background in animation, which allows him to take the characters' every odd notion to its absurd extreme. But the film's attempts at meaning do it in. The longer it goes on and the darker it grows, the further it drifts from any kind of human experience, outside of its protagonists' particular flavor of madness. The more it attempts profundity, the deeper it seeks into inanity. It's a cream puff trying to pass as a steak dinner.