Laurent Tirard's Molière belongs to the subgenre of fictionalized biopics, which is considerably better than belonging to the traditional biopic genre, now a classification that denotes little more than phony, moldy clichés. Taking its cue from Shakespeare in Love, Tirard's film uses the titular French playwright's life as a jumping-off point for a fanciful tale of romance, duplicity, and acting, Acting, ACTING, imagining the adventure had by the 22-year-old Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, aka Molière (The Beat That My Heart Skipped's Romain Duris), during a period of months in 1644 when he mysteriously vanished. It's speculation of the playful sort, as screenwriters Tirard and Grégoire Vigneron cook up a wild saga to serve as the eventual inspiration for the writer's Tartuffe and The Bourgeois Gentleman, both of which are born from his unlikely stay at the opulent estate of arrogant fat cat Monsieur Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini), where he finds himself in the middle of various romantic entanglements. Ruses, double-crosses, and covert kisses ensue, all while Tirard casts his legendary protagonist as a kindred spirit of Preston Sturges' Sullivan, convinced that comedy - his natural calling - is merely the ugly, inferior stepchild to tragedy.
It's a belief anyone with passing knowledge of Molière's work knows will inevitably be torn asunder, and one that's firmly opposed by Molière itself, which fervently embraces the author's brand of frothy farce tinged with melancholy. After a brief framing intro (set in 1658) in which Molière and his troupe return to Paris after a 13-year tour of the countryside, the film flashes back to the artist's early days when he was struggling to make ends meet as a two-bit performer. Those lean times come to an end after an accidental bit of Chaplin-esque stage buffoonery gets him hired by Jourdain, who wants acting lessons so that he might perform a ridiculously bad, self-penned one-act play (about Greek mythology) for the gorgeous marquise Celimene (Ludivine Sagnier). This must all be done in secret, however, since Jourdain is married to the sharp-eyed Elmire (Laura Morante), a beauty with whom Molière - posing as a priest named Tartuffe who's been commissioned to tutor the younger Jourdain daughter - soon comes to find himself enraptured, and with whom he begins a clandestine affair that proves one of many tricky situations the young playwright is charged with resolving.