Retro cuteness and an appealing heroine allow the French comedy “Populaire” to coast on charm for a lengthy spell, and any film that treats typing as an adrenaline sport earns points for kooky novelty.
But pizzazzy surfaces cannot compensate for the lack of a compelling central relationship in this period bonbon, which centers on a secretary-boss love story.
Director and co-writer Regis Roinsard, making his feature debut, delivers a romantic-comedy and sports-flick hybrid that exudes Hollywood-movie love, a la “The Artist.” The setting is late-1950s Normandy, the palette is pastel, and the plot suggests “My Fair Lady” meets “Rocky.”
Following some opening-credits artwork that sets the throwback tone spryly, we meet Rose Pamphyle (Deborah Francois), a small-town shopkeeper's daughter. Rose wants to be modern and independent, and, in 1958, that means not marrying the mechanic's son and instead pursuing a secretarial career.
Rose interviews with Louis Echard (Romain Duris), a suave insurance-firm boss with expensive suits, a mansion and an American friend named Bob (Shaun Benson) with whom he's always competing.
Impressed by her typing skills (and probably by how her keyboard fervor has loosened her bra strap), Louis hires the unqualified Rose.
A stipulation, though: Rose must compete in a speed-typing contest. Louis moves Rose into his home and rigorously trains her to become trophy material.
As Rose triumphs in prestigious competitions, she and Louis fall in love. But Louis, who years ago lost his sweetheart, Marie (Berenice Bejo), to Bob, has trouble acknowledging his feelings. As Rose achieves typing-star fame, the relationship cracks.
Roinsard, who has cited everyone from Jacques Demy to Billy Wilder, Douglas Sirk to Alfred Hitchcock, as influences is a smooth, fizzy mixologist, and his typewriter theme maintains steam.
Regardless of whether speed-typing competitions were truly the rage, Roinsard has viewers believing they could have been a craze in the weird 1950s. The contests, while hardly kung fu, contain some entertaining action as Rose and rivals maniacally strike keys and smack carriage-return mechanisms.
Francois, meanwhile, sparkles as Rose, who seems designed as a blend of Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day.
The problem, however, is that, in depicting the happiness she seeks, Roinsard and his co-writers trap Rose in scenarios that mesh with neither her independent spirit nor contemporary viewer sensibility.
We're asked to accept that fulfillment for a young career woman equals happily-ever-afterhood with her boss. Louis, as played by Duris, meanwhile, isn't convincing; he doesn't posses enough inner character to be good enough for Rose. This all sinks the movie as a love story.
Additionally, the film doesn't explore the real-life experiences of prefeminist-era secretaries such as Rose. The title comes from a pink typewriter seen in the film.
(two and a half stars)
Starring Romain Duris, Deborah Francois, Berenice Bejo, Shaun Benson
Written by Regis Roinsard, Daniel Presley, Romain Compingt
Directed by Regis Roinsard
Running time 1 hour, 41 minutes