Emilie (Sophie Cattani) is a lonely, bored young single woman struggling to meet an interesting guy, so she joins the popular dating website MeetMe! but the only men she manages to make contact with are a bunch of bizarre, unstable, unsavoury comic caricatures. Presumably after this quick, exaggerated, laugh-a-minute montage she then "meets someone in real life" who she wouldn't ever consider boyfriend material, but keeps encountering, and from there writer/director Dorothée Sebbagh goes into rom-com autopilot until the big kiss at the end that everyone desperately wants to see. Quite surprisingly, and in typically unconventional European style, Emilie's grotesque gallery of suitors aren't flashed by as comic relief; they become the subject of the film.
Meet Me in Real Life, or Chercher Le Garçon (Looking For a Boy) as it is been more generically titled in France, very literally looks at Emilie's search for a boyfriend on the internet, and how each real-life first- date meeting turns out. We briefly get to know the internet personas of some of the men she meets. A couple of posts are shown on the screen for us in big, colourful letters, but that's hardly enough characterisation. When she meets their real-life counterparts, we have no idea what her expectations were, and never get to share her disappointment.
She tells her first catch, Julien (Laurent Lacotte) a ridiculous romantic who constantly quotes his favourite love poems as he courts her, that she liked him as a user, but doesn't like him as a man. We wonder why, since of all her disappointing dates he seemed to misrepresent himself the least on the internet. Her expectations for Julien are a nonsensical mystery, and unfortunately, these are the only expectations of hers that Sebbagh ever informs us of, and contrasting Julien's two barely different personas is hardly an interesting exercise.
We come to the rest of these wacky, disturbing, disjointed encounters with only our own expectations: that the guy will be either an insufferable moron or a volatile creep that Emilie will never want to see again. Nothing is learnt from one meeting to the next. No interesting connections are drawn or comparisons made. Apart from a few unexpected developments with the first couple of guys, nothing much changes except the scenery and the unusual fetish (monkeys, lego, Hugh Grant, dancing or whatever else it happens to be) with each scene. If another cut of this film was released with the middle 50% of scenes in a different order, it's unlikely anyone would notice.
Towards the end of the film, two characters start to show their importance by appearing in more than one scene: a flabby, lonely middle- aged jogger who confides in Emilie quite literally running himself to death in order to get in shape and win back his wife, and another middle-aged man, Amir (Moussa Maaskri) a charming Afghan fisherman who wants to take her on his boat one day. No prizes for guessing who becomes her loyal friend, and who becomes her true blue boyfriend through some not-so-subtle symbolism some the recycled elements of Hollywood rom-coms.
However, the 70 minute running time shows Sebbagh is at least conscious of the banality of her message that Emilie should stop trying to hook up with boys that she's only fleetingly met on the internet and instead hook up with Amir, who she's fleetingly met in real life and the cinematically unimaginative way in which she's chosen to tell it. Films are rarely so short these days, but this one would truly have been painful if it was much longer. In a way I'm grateful for that sensible decision, but it also shows that she's admitted defeat, and confirms her low ambitions. If this were a Disney sequel, it would be a despised direct-to-video release, but since it's a fluffy French comedy, albeit with very drab cinematography, it gets a theatrical release and a sizeable adult audience.
For some, though, the line-up of amusing but rather similar grotesque caricatures and the charms of Cattani might be enough to sustain interest without any creative direction, narrative cohesion or thematic insight, but even with the strikingly short running time, I was sadly checking my watch pretty frequently during this mine through a mound of drab clichés for a few good laughs.
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