“Populaire”: The French can Even Make Typing Sexy

Populaire In late-'50s Normandy, a playboy insurance agent (Romain Duris) grooms his doe-eyed provincial secretary (Déborah François), otherwise a hopeless klutz, to become a world-champion speed-typist. Also, they fall in love. Obstacles include an old flame (The Artist's Bérénice Béjo, underused), a disapproving dad (Frédéric Pierrot), and some postwar proto-feminist ideas of upward mobility. The movie has a nice French way of openly taking it for granted that its leads will be together by the end, but that isn't enough to keep it from tasting like an unfresh, vaguely unhealthy confection. First-time director Régis Roinsard lays on the retro-romcom stylings thickly, nesting the lovers' courtship amid peppy tunes, fulgent lighting, punctilious production design, and an increasingly hammy series of high-stakes type-offs. (There is something counterproductive about scenes of speed-typing done in slow-motion.) He also stages a bold Vertigo homage, as if to acknowledge the perils of obsession with an unrecoverable past, but it just reminds us that his Populaire by contrast is a regressive, too-cute fairy tale. Or something. At times it's as if, by some translation error, a studio executive's request for an old Rock Hudson movie was misunderstood to be asking for an old Rocky movie. François is lovely and delightful, if much more plausible as swan than ugly duckling, and Duris, not quite smooth enough, at least does his duty with relative aplomb. (J.S.)

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