Judge Joel Pearce wants to make one thing clear right now: André Dussollier is no Ted Danson, that's for sure.
"We don't want a kid either, but when it's forced on you, you have to cope."—Pierre
This is the first time I have seen the classic French comedy Three Men and a Cradle, but I grew up with the Hollywood remake. Although it's not much different from my memories of Three Men and a Baby, it is a more mature, thoughtful, and sensitive film.
Facts of the Case
Three wealthy bachelors share a large apartment while living the good life with no cares in the world. This changes very quickly when Jacques' (André Dussollier, A Very Long Engagement) baby is left on the doorstep while he is gone on a trip. This leaves Michel (Michel Boujenah, Don Juan) and Pierre (Roland Giraud, A Mere Mortal) to learn very quickly how to care for the young Marie. After a terrible mix-up with some drugs and the police, Jacques returns to find his housemates quite upset.
Jacques fails to find anyone else who can care for the baby, so the three men must learn to work together to care for Marie for the months until her mother returns. As time passes, each of them start to bond with the baby, but none are willing to admit how much they are enjoying this new, challenging life.
If nothing else, Three Men and a Cradle is an interesting and lightly postmodern look at gender roles. At the beginning of the film, none of these men can imagine themselves caring for a child. They are the ideal wealthy single men of the early '80s, wining and dining and bedding as many women as possible, surrounding themselves in luxury without any thought of family, future, or even the relationships they have with each other. Each of them is an island of pleasure, and everything they do is meant to bring them more immediate thrills. As it turns out, the women they spend time with live much the same way. Sylvia did manage to get pregnant, but she is irresponsible enough to dump her infant on the doorstep of the man she assumes is likely the child's father, with no thought as to how well he will care for the baby. The other friends who appear later on in the film approach children the same way, as though having babies was an unpleasant matter that should be avoided whenever possible.
This is, incidentally, the only real value in the drug dealer subplot. These men, who assume their heroin is being smuggled inside Marie's crib, also dismiss the baby very quickly. The police are after the drugs, but don't seem to notice that Marie is being horribly neglected. Director Colline Serreau (18 Ans Après) has created a world in which everyone is selfish and nobody has the time or desire to care for a time-consuming baby.
Hers is not a completely hopeless vision, though. It doesn't take long for the three men to fall in love with Marie, who shows them all what they have been missing in their years of frivolous living. There is something fulfilling about caring for this small infant, and the emotional connection that they begin to feel with her gets them hooked on a new kind of experience. In order to meet the needs of this baby, all of them have to make major sacrifices in their own careers and personal lives. They are forced to work with each other, and they have to walk away from their social lives. One by one, they give in to their paternal instincts, finding a new kind of pleasure that they never knew existed. Most of the humor in the film comes out of this process, as we start to see them struggling with themselves. This is a sensitive and subversive brand of comedy, which does a good job of matching the slower pace of the film.
I find it interesting that Three Men and a Cradle was directed by a woman. The perspective is unique, though it's difficult to tell whether it should be read as her understanding of a male desire to nurture, or her creation of an ideal trio of men, transformed in a few short months from wild bachelors to committed family men. Something about their motivations and transformations doesn't add up, but it only feels strange when thinking about it afterwards. It's a movie that feels great, and that's more important for a comedy.
I have no complaints with the transfer. The video is clear and crisp, with a natural, film-like grain, good colors, and few obvious instances of dirt on the print. For a 20-year-old film, it looks quite good. The sound is presented in its original French mono, and it is well-mixed and natural.
The extras on the disc are less impressive. There is a brief interview with Serreau, which sheds some light on her perspective in making this film about men. Also, there is a brief musical montage of the three men singing their lullaby and a short homage to the squeaky giraffe (which I think everyone has experienced for themselves at one time or another). These extras hardly add up to a special edition.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have to be honest. the drug deal subplot is absurd and implausible, completely failing to fit into the rest of the film. It worked better in the American remake, where the philosophizing and nuances were replaced by dirty diaper jokes and last-second chase scenes. Here, the drugs distract us from watching Pierre and Michel figure out what to do with this baby, which is more moving and entertaining than the pathetic attempt at criminal activity. A note to would-be drug dealers: do not watch this film for inspiration on how to sneak drugs past the police. Fortunately, this part of the film does not last long, and it quickly moves on to more interesting matters.
Truth be told, Three Men and a Cradle is not as deep or clever a film as it feels like while watching it. It is a contemporary female fantasy, featuring three men who desire and learn how to be mothers. It is, however, also a highly entertaining watch, far more meaty and mature than its Hollywood counterpart. Fans of comedy are well advised to seek it out.
Although it's a little light on extras, Three Men and a Cradle is a solid and entertaining film. Not guilty.
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