Populaire (2013)

populaire-romain-duris-deborah-francoisCan you imagine a musical without any show tunes? That’s pretty much what French director Régis Roinsard has created inPopulaire, a dazzling carousel of a film that, despite a noticeable lack of show-stoppers, will have you tapping your feet and clapping your hands nonetheless.

Why? Well, if you pop the cork on Populaire, you’ll find yourself pirouetting in bubbles. It’s impossible not to get swept up in its infectious satire, its swoonsome romance and its sepia-toned innocence. As 1950s village girl Rose (Déborah François) first lands a secretary job at a big city insurance firm, then becomes the pet project of boss Louis (Romain Duris), Populaire whisks along like a petal on a breeze – buoyant, bright, playful.

In the place of show tunes we get (wait for it) thrillingly-choreographed type-offs. See, Louis is coaching Rose to put her secretarial skills to the test in national (and later, international) competitions. If cut-throat type-offs sound like your idea of office-desk hell, it’s here that Roinsard impresses most, his singularly crafty eye transforming scenes that should be loud, clacking annoyances into the kind of visually-inventive sports-movie montages that get your temples resolutely thumping.

It’s part sitcom, part sports film, and Populaire is as immaculately groomed as its stars. The fifties setting is fastidiously, sumptuously recreated, though nothing looks even remotely lived in. The aesthetic is as artificial as a set of acrylic nails, but that’s part of Populaire‘s charm – this is one man’s dollhouse vision of a bygone era, glimpsed through gauzy window netting. Roinsard’s film is positively crammed with delicious sights – painted fingernails, haute couture and, in one risqué moment, a striking red-blue neon sex scene (mon dieu!).

Ensuring that there’s substance behind the style, François is an endearingly goofy lead. It’s no mistake that she has a picture of Audrey Hepburn tacked to her bedroom wall. Not only is François a likeable Hepburn double, her comedy timing is impeccable. Meanwhile, her chemistry with Duris crackles. Sure, the film follows the expected peaks and troughs of a screwball romance, but it’s difficult to complain when it’s played out this beautifully.

Consider Populaire the My Fair Lady of typing. It’s a poem to and pastiche of ’50s rom-coms, full of knowing sexism (“Your life! Everything a modern girl dreams of!”), head-spinning fashion and frothy, infectious fun. Like the prophetically-named typewriter that Rose first falls in love with, Populaire is a triumph. 4/5

Via Grolsch Film Works 

I Give It A Year (2013)

I Give It A YearWeddings in movies often surface as portents of doom, whether it’s mobster carnage (The Godfather), personal meltdown (Bridesmaids) or brain-bludgeoning banality (Bride Wars).

Brave, then, for Borat writer Dan Mazer to open his directorial debut with a nuptial ceremony. As you’d expect from the man who helped Sacha Baron Cohen concoct naked-wrestling gags, it’s a grimly funny affair (buoyed by un-PC best man Stephen Merchant), signalling that couple Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall) could be destined for a very unhappy ever after.

It’s clear that these two aren’t exactly made for each other, anyway. She’s a high-strung PR. He’s a housebound writer. While attending sessions with a mad-hatter marriage counsellor (enter a scene-snaffling Olivia Colman), Nat’s eye is drawn by  dashing American client Guy (Simon Baker), while Josh finds old feelings fanned by ex-beau Chloe (Anna Faris). Agreeing to, yep, give it a year, the newlyweds could have quite a challenge on their hands.

Set after the point where most romcoms wrap up, the irreverent IGIAY wants to mess with the genre. On the downside, Byrne is stuck playing the straight gal to Spall’s klutz, meaning the latter ends up with the lion’s share of laughs. Not that the ladies miss out – Minnie Driver is hysterical as Nat’s husband-hating big sis, and Faris’ bedroom set-piece is brilliantly bonkers.

In a film with obvious ambition, though, it’s a shame that it resorts to formula so quickly.With everything tied up in a bow by the end, chances are you’ll be left feeling like the DJ’s packed up and gone home early.

Verdict: Not quite the romcom revolution it wants to be – (500) Days Of Summer teased humour from heartbreak more effectively – but still a gag-filled chuckler with talent to spare. 3/5

Via Total Film

The Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

George Clooney once branded director David O. Russell “insane to the point of stupidity”, but there’s nothing stupid about the filmmaker’s (often literally) insane ninth feature film. Dealing with crazy-making matters of the heart and mind, it’s a rom-com with fangs that runs like the clappers and, yes, has serious bite.

Much of that comes in the form of buzzing interplay between stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. A bouncing ball of nervous energy, Cooper’s a million miles away from Hangover-land, turning in a career-making performance as recovering mental patient Pat – who’s just been jacked out of the clinic where he was recuperating after losing his shit over his wife’s cheating ways.

With not an overplayed twitch or sentimental spasm in sight, Cooper’s a revelation – raw, searing and impossible not to watch. Where the screen really fizzles, though, is when he’s trading no-nonsense insults with the similarly wacky Lawrence, whose Tiffany has her own shopping list of problems (she’s getting over the death of her husband). These are two people you should never put in a room together, which is of course why they make such riveting viewing when they are.

That Cooper manages to submerse himself so fully in Pat’s world is impressive enough, but even more remarkable is Lawrence’s ability to match and even surpass him. Sharp, brittle, seductive, it’s her most accomplished performance since Winter’s Bone – and not once do you mistake her for Katniss Everdeen.

None of this would work without Russell, whose script – based on Matthew Quick’s book – is as blunt as its two leads and often genuinely, unexpectedly moving. Visually, he keeps his framing loose, the lighting naturalistic (think The Fighter). As Cooper also clashes with pap Robert De Niro (fantastic) and mom Jacki Weaver (perpetually terrified), Russell gives the characters ample room to breathe. It’s an approach that really ramps up the tension – along with some killer song choices – and, yes, there’s even one of Russell’s trademark snapback camera moves, here as effective as ever.

Ignore the clunky title (it hasn’t got much to do with the movie). Though a third act dip prevents Silver Linings Playbook from delivering as a bona fide classic, it contains so many laugh-out-loud, disarmingly honest moments you can’t help but be swept along for the ride. Dizzying as a merry-go-round and about as over-sentimental as an IKEA catalogue, it’s a crowd-pleaser from top to bottom. And just on the right side of crazy. 4/5

Via Grolsch Film Works