A little confession: When I was fifteen, I enrolled in a dactylography course. It quickly became clear: I obviously had a hidden knack for ramming my fingers down on keyboards and making words appear on a screen. As the course ended, I felt I had to have written proof of my 320 strokes a minute, so I took part in a typing exam. An exam I obviously nailed, and which netted me the first diploma of my life. So it is with pride I tell you that I have been a qualified secretary since ninth grade!
It’s only obvious I wanted to see Populaire (also known as Mademoiselle Populaire) – a delightfully cute French film about the power of love. And mechanical typewriters.
Set in 1958, Populaire tells the story of Rose, the world’s worstest secretary, who is forced into the speed typing scene by Louis, the world’s Frenchest boss. As Rose and Louis rise from rags to riches to populaire, they have to realize it’s not speed typing, but love that truly matters. (And not just because speed typing is the weirdest sport ever.)
If you consider this a cliche and had to gag while reading this: That’s precisely the point. Populaire is a movie set in 1958, with a plot that sounds like it was written in 1958 and a look that nails simulating 1958. This movie looks and feels like the great classics of the fifties – Rose even resembles Kim Novak and Audrey Hepburn stuck in a blender. Story and execution fit together perfectly, making this movie feel old and fresh at the same time. The result is encredibly cute, enchanting, even slightly magical:
This is where I get nerdy!
That is not to say this movie is without its problems. Mainly, the movie’s biggest enemy is its own length: Clocking at 111 minutes, we’re nowhere near a Cloud Atlas or a Lord of the Rings, but every story has its length and Populaire’s very obviously overstays its welcome. The movie’s first half is wonderful, dynamic, fast-paced and hilariously cute. The second half is an unevenly plotted chain of events that muddles the tone it tried so hard to create. It’s 60 percent funny and 40 percent dramatic – which is 20 percent too much.
Without trying to spoil too much: As with every sports-type movie, it consists out of three elements: The training, the competition, and the emotional relationship between the players. Populaire has the first two down perfectly: it makes speed typing something magical to look at, with papers flying around, bra-straps showing and scrunchies being catapulted across the room. It’s the relationship between Louis and Rose – which is obviously the core of the movie; in the end you shouldn’t care whether they win or lose because they found each other – that doesn’t quite work.
Here’s an example: Louis has personal issues and the story made the mistake of linking these, amongst others, to the war. So imagine this: We’re watching some hilarious scenes with Louis trying to convince a friend (actually, an old love, who is another weight on Louis) by playing five-finger filet. You’re holding your breath and roaring with laughter internally – brilliant scene. Then, five seconds later, he’s telling Rose about how he watched his friends get gunned down in 1945. Jesus Christ, film! Way to sneak that one up on me!
The movie would’ve been better with less Louis-issues. I get the pitch – this is a guy who wants to win so badly he’s willing to destroy his love for it. I love this guy already! And I love Rose for being the underdog (still wish she was a bit more active, but this is a love story set in 1958, so hey). But ditch the war. Ditch the ex-girlfriend. Stick with his obvious daddy issues.
Bam! Twenty minutes of story fat trimmed. The result: a funnier, sleeker, sexier movie.
That said, I do heartily recommened this movie. It is like The Arist Light – it takes movie conventions that are long gone and uses them to create something fresh, but also familiar. I say light, because, unlike The Artist, this movie is light. It doesn’t try to do anything artistic, funny or weird, but stays grounded in its own adorable set of rules. And that’s precisely what makes it great.
Populaire is a movie that will have you laughing throughout and grinning as the credits roll. And finally, for the first time in over a decade, you’ll have that catharsis from attaining your secretary’s degree.