Populaire (2012) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for a scene of sexuality
Running Time: 111 min.
Cast: Deborah Francoise, Romain Duris, Shaun Benson, Berenice Bejo, Melanie Bernier, Nicolas Bedos, Miou Miou
Director: Regis Roinsard
Screenplay: Regis Roinsard, Daniel Presley, Romain Compingt
Review published September 27, 2013
Set in the late 1950s, Populaire follows a small-town girl named Rose Pamphyle (Francoise, The Page Turner), who travels to Lisieux in Normandy, France, to make something of herself. Though a bit of a neophyte to office environments, Rose ends up landing a job as a secretary in a successful ad agency due to impressing the boss, a debonair playboy named Louis Echard (Duris, Le Divorce), with her uncanny ability to type blazingly fast, which is all the more impressive because she hunts and pecks with two index fingers on the typewriter. Alas, that seems to be her only skill, and though Louis finds her quite fetching to have around, he's going to have to let her go, unless she accepts one final condition: that she wins an upcoming local speed-typing competition. When she fails to meet the mark, Louis strikes one more bargain with Rose -- he will coach her on how to touch type, and use her prodigious skills to become the best in the country, and perhaps the world, at the one thing she does well. However, as they are both secretly attracted to one another, will feelings get in the way of their focus in forming a winning partnership, should business and pleasure mix?
Directed with flair by first-time feature film helmer Regis Roinsard, Populaire is a very cute, entertaining "dessert" comedy from France that infuses lots of vibrant Technicolor-esque images, kinetic energy, flirtatious banter, charismatic actors (Francois is a revelation in the main role), and winsome charm into an overall feel-good film, very much like the films of yesteryear it is crafted to emulate. From the charmingly pert heroine, the various high-fashion wardrobe changes, glamorous hair and makeup, the lively scoring, and the breezy tone, Populaire is only a revealing shot of a wet blouse and a rather out-of-place sex scene (the sole reason this film is rated R in the U.S.) removed from seeming like it was released in the early 1960s. Though it is, at its core, just the typical 'competition formula' that filmdom has no shortage of, it greatly benefits from a refreshingly comical, offbeat premise, which is the facetious notion that one could become a rock-star celebrity merely for having a phenomenal ability to do a fairly mundane task such as typing.
The story itself is full of plot points that make almost no sense. Why would Louis claim that Rose's job depends on whether she wins a fast-typing competition when it is the only area she is already shown to be great at? Why would one coach someone on typing by doing such things as jogging? And I guess it needs to be asked how speed-typing would become such a popular spectator sport so as to not only have its own championship circuit, but can fill large concert halls with people, all of whom are too far from the stage to see anything being typed?
Though it falters occasionally in its tone within the final half hour, particularly in its rather superfluous, and humorless, subplots involving Louis's side dalliances, including one with his best friend's woman, Populaire is a marvelous example of how to make a retro-minded fluffy romantic comedy, a la Down with Love. The film is at its best when it sticks closest to the main plot of Rose and her quest to be the best, or at least to win over Louis with her ability. If you're a fan of the movies starring the actresses Rose idolizes -- Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Doris Day -- this pure-entertainment production should be right up your chic, candy-coated, pastel-colored alley.
©2013 Vince Leo