Lately I've been noticing a trend, if it can be called so, in movies of fake biographies. I'm referring to films where the main character is a real life writer, the story covers a time from which there is little knowledge, and it's made up from anecdotes of his or her works.
The first case is Shakespeare in love, a lighthearted comedy that made perhaps to much noise - and therefore many people found disappointing, but in my opinion is growing old very well. New audiences, thankfully spared from all the hype, can laugh at the jokes (both the knowledgeable and the sitcom style) and enjoy the antics of William and Viola without thinking about the Oscars it was awarded. The supporting cast is fantastic, especially the British actors (does Geoffrey Rush have a nationality anymore?) and the side humor is as good, or maybe better, than what's going on with the main plot - which I think is good enough.
The second film is Molière, a French production very much after Shakespeare in love's heart. Romain Duris, a surprisingly versatile actor (remember his intensity as a cultivated henchman in De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté and his post teenager musings as an Erasmus French student in Spain in L'auberge espagnole) plays the role of a terribly bad actor who's in jail for unpaid debts, and he's offered a job as an acting coach and turns out to be a great writer.
The people Molière meets during this time, the dialogues he has and the situations he experiences mimic those of his best known plays: Tartuffo, The bourgeois gentleman, The imaginary invalid and others. The twists and turns are very funny, and I really like the French cinema acting school (if there's such thing). The supporting casting in this film is brilliant, with Laura Morante, Fabrice Lucchini and Ludivine Saigner providing excellent performances that enhance Duris' own.
The third film (yes my dear reader, today we have a third example) is Becoming Jane. A young Jane Austen enjoys writing and is applauded within her family circle, but there's something missing in her work she can't put her finger on. Enter a young gentleman of French name who first despises her but then grows fonder, and after some predictable turns (that is, if you're familiar with Austen's biography) the subtle writer of character studies and keen eye for human relationships is born.
The carefully curated sets and wardrobes are very pleasant, and there isn't much humor in this story but there are moment of deep feelings and warmth. Jane Austen's biography doesn't offer the same blanks Shakespeare and Molière's do, but there's a certain dose of mystery in a seemingly plain life that produced novels that are sold and read two centuries later.
I admit I was surprised to see the negative reactions all three pieces received. They thread in dangerous waters: you need to know some about the life and times of the writers, so those who are unfamiliar are left outside without much to grasp. But if you have more than a passing acquaintance with them (as some Literature teachers have pointed out) they seem superficial, even disrespectful. Becoming Jane goes as far as to commit one of the most heinous crimes a cast director could ever attempt: the actress playing Austen is, gasp, American (the controversy surrounding that decision helped me see that there's an unwritten rule that no British actress should ever attempt to play Josephine March, and no American should reciprocate with Elizabeth Bennet).
So I don't think this trend will grow like weed, but for the next installment count me in. I love them.