Years before finding success as a comic playwright in late 17th century France, aspiring dramatist Jean-Baptiste Poquelin dit Molière (Romain Duris, intermittently amusing) is bailed out of prison by wealthy Monsieur Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini) under one condition: that Moliere teach him to act so that he may woo a beautiful younger woman (Ludivine Sagnier of "Swimming Pool"). Needless to say, Moliere must keep this mission a secret from Jourdain's wife, whom he, of course, falls for.
Big question: Can this fictionalized flick avoid comparisons to "Shakespeare in Love" and find fun by turning Moliere's life into a Moliere-esque play?
Skip it: Considering Moliere's penchant for in-your-face farce, strange that "Moliere" underplays its biggest opportunities for laughs, like the film is standing at the plate but unwilling to swing the bat. A freewheeling good time is begging to come out of all these deceptions and hidden agendas, but the movie's a series of well-established gears that fail to turn.
Catch it: If you agree with Celimene's (Sagnier) assertion that "Beauty without intelligence is like a hook without bait." This likely also means that you are not Jessica Simpson.
Bottom line: The only substance in "Moliere" comes from the scribe learning that when you write what you know, you can't chronicle tragedy until you've experienced it. Had "Moliere" offered a broader repertoire of comedy and truly asked its characters to sacrifice for love, perhaps the film would not have suffered from the same lack of dramatic perspective as its hero.
Bonus: Next time you can't pay the bills, take a page from Moliere's book and call out, "A plague on creditors!" Hired goons are surprisingly fearful of old-school threats!
Matt Pais is the metromix movies producer.
Directed by Laurent Tirard; screenplay by Tirard and Gregoire Vigneron; photographed by Gilles Henry; edited by Valerie Deseine; music by Frederic Talgorn; production design by Francois Dupertuis; produced by Olivier Delbosc and Marc Missonnier. A Sony Pictures Classics release; opens Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema and CineArts 6 in Evanston. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 2:00. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content).
Moliere - Romain Duris
Jourdain - Fabrice Luchini
Elmire - Laura Morante
Dorante - Edouard Baer
Celimene - Ludivine Sagnier
Henriette - Fanny Valette