Up For Love (Un homme à la hauteur)

France (2016) Dir. Laurent Tirard

Size doesn’t matter. It is one of those humiliation-saving white lies told since time immemorial, along with bums not looking big certain dresses, an overcooked dinner still being edible, or a terrible haircut being fine. The problem is 50% of the people in these conversations still have to live with this stigma…

Divorce lawyer Diane Duchêne (Virginie Efira), herself recently divorced from her legal practice partner Bruno (Cédric Kahn), leaves her mobile phone behind after a stormy lunch meeting with Bruno. It is picked up by Alexandre (Jean Dujardin) who calls Diane’s home number and arranges to return the phone to her in person, charming her during their chat.

They eventually meet but Diane is shocked to find that Alexandre is only 4ft 5ins tall. It is an awkward first meeting but Alexandre, a successful architect, wins Diane over and they continue to see each other. However, Diane is reluctant to introduce Alexandre to her friends and family, knowing what they will say about his height, something that isn’t a new experience for Alexandre.

Up For Love is arguably a more tactful and less innuendo-laden choice of title than the original French one which translates as A Man Up To The Task; the original Argentinean film this is a remake of is entitled Corazón de León or Heart Of A Lion, also the same title the Columbian remake used too. Maybe this was too subtle for the French or it was felt it didn’t convey its rom-com credentials enough to draw an audience.

Either way, the storyline is the same across all three films, albeit with bespoke cultural and geographical alterations to character names and such, and although I have not seen the original or the Columbian version, I am quite confident the other thing they have in common is their leading man isn’t so short in reality. I wonder if this is an issue for the whitewashing brigade to get het up over, but given the original is already 7 years old, I guess it must has slipped under their radar.

Naturally, Alexandre’s height is the conduit for all the size jokes you can imagine, from the cruel – Diane’s secretary Coralie (Stéphanie Papanian) gives him a glass of water with a straw like he was a child – to slightly more subtle, pathos tinged set ups – such as Diane being forced to buy him a jumper from a children’s clothing shop only to bump into a child with the same jumper on later.

Alexandre however takes it with a pinch of salt, even making jokes at his own expense, presumably having heard it all before on a daily basis, but beneath this humility is a man who is tired of being a freak show. It isn’t that he is portrayed as loser, being a wealthy, successful, and well-connected architect with a huge house, and a young adult son from his first marriage, Benji (César Domboy), it is literally his diminutive stature that makes him stand out, for wanting a better term.

For Diane, she is quickly smitten with Alexandre after he shows her more fun times in a few dates than her entire married life with Bruno, but remains hesitant to commit to her feelings for the obvious reasons. Alexandre seems to think Diane could be the one but like his other dates, she keeps him secret from those close to her and has to put her on the spot to get her to go public with him.

Before she can, Bruno spots them one day and mocks Diane for dating a midget, then Diane’s mother Nicole (Manoëlle Gaillard) has a “what will the neighbours say?” moment when Diane declares her love for Alexandre. This particular trope is intentional, serving to highlight the hypocrisy of how people view handicaps, with Nicole’s second husband Phillipe (Bruno Gomila) going deaf but she doesn’t see how her sympathy for Alexandre should be the same, since deafness is less obvious.

It is fair to say that as a light rom-com, Laurent Tirard is playing to the gallery and not going in too hard with moralising about social prejudice, relying instead on the charms of its bankable male lead to get the ladies cooing at his childlike cuddlesome value. This doesn’t fall completely at Tirard’s feet since he is adapting someone else’s script, but it is apparent so much more could have been done to challenge the ignorant perceptions that blight some lives and still deliver a feel good tale.

Jean Dujardin it has to be said is eminently likeable and rootable as Alexandre, perhaps too much so since he comes across as dashing matinee idol with the Midas touch who is regularly floored by his St Bernard dog (of course). But even he can’t disguise when he is clearly on his knees, or sitting on a low chair at a table. For the most part the blending of his digitally shrunk form is convincing, with the exception of a scene at a disco where it is blatantly obvious he has been added on afterwards as they couldn’t colour grade him the same as the rest of the room.

Virginie Efira is also a treat as Diane, striking a fine balance between being lovestruck and wary of the social perceptions that come with dating someone a foot shorter than her. Efira reminds me of Katherine Heigel, so if/when Hollywood makes their version, don’t be surprised if she is cast in it. Everyone else is mostly there to react to Alexandre, so there is little substance to their roles, but they play them well enough.

Given the well-intended nature behind Up For Love, the idea of not using a shorter actor to play Alexandre will be contentious, but with this being a genre film with no pretence of rocking the boat, it is what it is. As a slice of light, hardly challenging, but suitably amiable entertainment, it at least measures up in that regard.