By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Typing as a spectator sport? Will wonders never cease.
Yet that’s pretty much the setup for the candy-colored throwback Populaire, a delightful, stylized, period romantic comedy from France that’s unironically old-fashioned.
And although detractors will undoubtedly claim that it’s a case of style over substance, what wonderfully whimsical and winning style this film has, as well as the charm of a season’s worth of movies.
Déborah François plays Rose, a 21-year-old who works at her father’s grocery store in the Normandy countryside in 1958 and yearns for a more exciting life. Perhaps a job as a secretary would do the trick.
She applies for a job in the nearby city of Lisieux with cocky, unmarried insurance executive Louis Echard, played by Romain Duris, who notices two things: how attractive she is, and, despite her many limitations where office work is concerned, how feverishly fast she types.
Using only two fingers, no less.
So her chain-smoking, confirmed-bachelor employer hires her despite her inexperience and klutziness and, ultra-competitive sportsman that he is, decides to train her to type with ten fingers and enter her in the local speed-typing competition in preparation for the world championship in New York.
(Yep, shades of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. Think of this as “My Fair Typist,” and note the resemblance of François to Audrey Hepburn, by way of Cate Blanchett, as well as a photo of Hepburn prominently displayed on Rose’s bedroom wall.)
Of course this must be accomplished in his country mansion in a live-in, around-the-clock manner that makes the film intermittently seem like Rocky with keystrokes and carriage returns instead of uppercuts and sucker punches.
At least that’s what’s going on on the surface.
But we know even if the two principals don’t that they’re also, more importantly, falling in love. So observes the wife of Louis’s best friend, played by The Artist’s Berenice Bejo, the childhood sweetheart with whom Louis had a thwarted love affair before he lost her to his longtime American buddy (Shaun Benson), with whom Louis made the bet that triggered this whole undertaking.
Taking its title from a model of typewriter that Rose uses, the frothy, visually vibrant pop fable is not only set in the 1950s, it could — with the exception of the one sex scene that earns the film its R rating — have been made then.
Debuting director and co-writer Regis Roinsard, while playfully saluting the films of the ’50s, especially the Rock Hudson-Doris Day collaborations, has female empowerment on his mind but doesn’t get too preachy or serious about it. He’s more interested in shooting the competitive typing segments as if they were splashy highlight musical numbers, with clickety-clack accompaniment, and the sillier the better.
Superficial Populaire may be. But not only is that not a flaw or limitation in this particular instance, it might even be, no pun intended, the key to the film’s success.
The film’s two stars are perfect for their roles and the film’s third star, making a delightful comeback during this era of computer keyboards, is the typewriter, which offers up a performance that runs the gamut from A to Z.
So we’ll hunt and peck 3½ stars out of 4. The retro romcom Populaire is a breezy, irresistible charmer that seems to beg for an American remake and just might be your type.