The controversial subject of same-sex adoption gets a crowdpleasing makeover in “Baby Love,” the debut Gallic dramedy from writer-director Vincent Garenq. Less a study of the social ramifications of French family law (under which gay adoption remains illegal) than a stirring, bordering-on-frothy portrait of one man’s relentless quest to become a dad, the pic is a well-constructed slice of contempo life that uses meller glaze to smooth over the uglier, more problematic parts. The stellar cast and squeaky-clean tech package helped the pic find love during its early September Gaul release. Propagation among fests, arthouses and gay auds seems likely.
Never an easy sell in a country where same-sex civil unions are possible but where gay marriage and adoption are unlikely to be legalized anytime soon, “Baby Love” deftly avoids the trappings of political controversy by focusing on the select few who manage to find their own makeshift solutions to the dilemma.
Radiant pediatrician Manu (Lambert Wilson) ruefully tries to adopt a baby behind the back of his tough lawyer b.f., Philippe (Pascal Elbe). But the plan backfires when the social services finds out Manu is not hetero, and Philippe angrily slams the door.
Unshaken in his near-maniacal pursuit of fatherhood, Manu cuts a deal with an illegal Argentine immigrant (Pilar Lopez De Ayala) that’s meant to serve both their needs. She agrees to be his baby’s surrogate mother, and he agrees to a “Green Card”-style marriage.
Predictably enough, this plan backfires as well, and the pic’s second half has Manu facing up to the consequences of his careless actions.
Unlike its French title (literally, “Like Others”), pic’s English one hints at a dramatic comedy. But the story is mostly a melancholic, laugh-free affair with touches of lightness — salsa music, cute babies, a gushy finale — meant to make the bitterness easier to swallow.
Uppity perf by Wilson adds plenty of sugar to the brew, and it’s contrasted nicely by Elbe’s commanding stoicism as the main character’s boyfriend. Spanish thesp Lopez De Ayala’s convincing turn as an immigrant caught among friendly but domineering interests is another plus.
Unlike the gloomy atmosphere of gay-themed films by fellow French helmers Patrice Chereau, Andre Techine and Sebastien Lifshitz, TV vet Garenq places his characters in a sitcom-friendly environment, set between Philippe’s immense Parisian cottage and several sun-drenched or snow-covered exteriors (all actually quite rare in Paris). Lensing by Jean-Claude Larrieu (“The Secret Life of Words”) is topnotch.