One of the obvious ingredients comprising the classic American romantic comedy- an ingredient long since abandoned in the genre, subject to the coarsening depiction of the relationship between the sexes since the too long delayed growing spurts misguidedly wasted in the immediate post-Production Code era -is charm.
Not unlike the unaccountably vilified storytelling element known as sentimentality, charm has been almost unilaterally forsaken, as well as castigated, as old-fashioned, squirm inducing, or, worst of all, unrelatable to a target audience whose cinematic emotional appetites are deemed to be best served with quick cut jabs to the viscera (thus the saturation- along with unrelated fiscal calculations involving bleeding a stone dry -of films unenhanced by nor appropriate to their force fed screenings in such sensorial assault formats as 3D and Imax) and narratives expressing cynicism rather than even the pretense of emotional purity regardless of any synthetic basis to its manufacture. However, back to the subject of charm; that ineffable quality of which the small, unassuming French romantic comedy “Populaire” contains in sufficient abundance as to put that most neglected of expressions on the faces of its audience: a smile.
Jeanne Pamphyle (a delightful Deborah Francois) is a small town girl with the modest dream of becoming a secretary, despite a complete inability to perform the simplest office task without creating destructive chaos. She is an adorable klutz who has one oddball skill- the ability to rapidly type with two fingers -that (for reasons left sensibly, though not critically, unexplained) ignites a sporting competitive drive in a prospective boss, insurance agent Louis Échard (Romain Duris), who agrees to retain Jeanne as long as she competes in a regional speed typing contest. Losing in the finals, Louis redoubles his efforts, moving Jeanne into his home and putting her through a course of relentless ten fingered exercises, including piano lessons by his ex-girlfriend Marie (Bérénice Bejo), the wife of his best friend Bob (Shaun Benson), training her to compete and win a series of regional and national speed typing competitions. Though they cohabitate platonically, romantic feelings blossom almost immediately, though for reasons which will inevitably be explained, Louis is hesitant to pursue. One of the delights of the film is in seeing Jeanne’s proclivity in speed typing increase in concert with a barely repressed romantic fire, with the resulting frustration fueling her fire in the increasingly fierce competitions.
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