Monday, November 9, 2009

I Do (Prête-moi ta main) -- meddling and marriage

Director: Eric Lartigau, 2006

The staple of the romantic comedy is the happily single bachelor put into a position where permanent relationship looms, threatening his carefree ways. I Do takes this formula and meddles with it a little.

When we first meet Luis (Alain Chabat), he's a young man in the 70s with wild hair and wildly in love. But he is surrounded by his mother Genevieve (Bernadette Lafont), the strong-willed widow and matriarch of the family, and five sisters. Overbearing, they insult his girlfriend and scare her away. In the process, Luis' heart is scarred. He had eyes only for his girl and she is gone. But it is his nose that reminds him of her scent. And developing a fragrance to remember her, he discovers his career: La Nez. He is the nose, the designer in a perfume company.

Cut ahead to present day, Luis is in his early 40s. He lives in his own bachelor pad apartment, where he can enjoy casual sex with one-night stands and no familial repercussions. Yet his laundry is handled by his mom and sisters, and he gets meals there when he wants. In short, he is pampered.

When this "G6" counsel of women suddenly decide it is time for Luis to grow up and get married, his life takes a decidedly downward turn. The amusing montage of bad blind dates arranged for him by his family is reminscent of that in Arranged, but here Luis is far more blunt with his needs and desires.

Realizing that his family will not give in until he has settled down, Luis hatches a perfect plan to get them off his back. He will get married to a "perfect woman" and then be stood up at the altar. In this way, he can almost get married yet stay single and gain lifelong sympathy from the mother and sisters. Of course, this would not be a comedy if the plan played out perfectly.

The perfect woman comes along in the form of Emma (Charlotte Gainsbourg), the sister of his best friend. She has moved to the city and is in need of a job. When he offers to hire her she strikes a hard bargain but the contract is agreed. These two have appeared together before, in The Science of Sleep, and they play well here. Her businesslike approach covers a different family need. Both want something from the other, yet neither desires any commitment. It is simply a commercial transaction.

Different parts of this premise have appeared in earlier films over the years. Richard Gere hired Julia Roberts to be his escort 20 years ago in Pretty Woman. Kate Hudson tried to show How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Here these combine as a hiring and firing of a bride. And of course, this focus on my best friend's sister's wedding brings to mind Julia Roberts again in My Best Friend's Wedding.

Two moral issues emerge from this film. First, there is the concept of meddling. What gave Luis' mother or sisters' the right to get involved in his life? Are they better able to decide what is best for him than he is? The apostle Paul addresses the problem of meddling in two of his letters. To his young pastor friend Timothy, he writes (about widows): "not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to." (1 Tim. 5:13) These young women who have nothing better to do start meddling in the lives of others. To the church at Thessalonica, Paul warns: "We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies" (2 Thess. 3:11). Meddling is even compared to murder in 1 Pet. 4:15: "If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler."

We might feel the urge to play matchmaker for our friends or single relatives, but is that really our place? Surely it is better for us to give them space to make their own decisions. If they are adults, they are responsible for their own actions. They have their own lives to live. We can offer some insight, even some wisdom. But to press beyond this is to meddle and become a busybody.

The second moral issue is that of casual sex apart from marriage. This shows up in most movies these days. But it is a predominant theme here, since Luis wants to avoid commitment. He is focused on externals, the looks of a woman, the size of her breasts, the smell of her scent. But he cares less about her deeper character qualities. After all, he wants passion, not permanence. Relationships are superficial for him. Yet, this causes great damage to the soul. We are more than animals. We are complex physical, emotional and spiritual beings created to enjoy marital intimacy and sexual union (Gen. 2:24). Marriage may not be for everyone. Even Paul affirms this (1 Cor. 7:8). But sex is to be cherished and enjoyed in the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4). Sex while single diminishes the sanctity of this physical union while making us thinner, weaker people. This is not a message that is welcome today. In contrast, when we find the perfect marriage partner, we help each other become deeper, stronger, more loving people.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

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