Falling in love is one thing; falling in love with the right person is quite another.
Or so Un Profil Pour Deux aka Mr Stein Goes Online – there’s quite the creative titular translation leap going on there – would have us believe in this light farce, scripted and directed by Stéphane Robelin which weaves a tale of love found, love lost, love found, love complicated and love weirdly yet somehow engagingly implausible.
It’s quite the hilarious entanglement and one that is explored and executed with a reasonable amount of success, although not perfectly, leading to some rather impressive feats of narrative derring-do that are rather audaciously odd even for a romantic comedy of which this film is most definitely one.
Rom-coms are by their very nature frothy, bubblegum artifices of beautiful wish creation; there’s nothing wrong with that, to co-opt Seinfeld for a moment, since much of cinema devotes itself to just such flights of wishfulness and fancy.
You go to these movies, knowing full well that reality will be taking a backseat to aspirational romanticism, that the grinding wheels of the day-to-day will go quiet and let every last lovestruck whim and fantasy get their moment to vent at full volume.
It is the pleasing nature of the rom-com beast, and if, like me, you are rather in love with the genre, you buy into this arrangement with alacrity and a buoyant expectation that life will be defined, for a couple of hours at least, by wishes and prayers rather than reality’s often contrary, all too frequently vision-less hand.
To a great extent, as a certified member of the rom-com genre, Mr Stein Goes Online fulfils its end of the bargain, serving up romance on a platter, not once but twice, in the process reassuring us that, no matter the circumstances, love can, and will find us, no matter the dubious shenanigans involved.
The Mr Stein (Pierre, played by Pierre Richard) of the title is a man well into into his 70s who lost the love of his life to illness two years before and is hopelessly mired in the aftermath of grief, spending his days watching old home movies, sitting in the same old smelly jumper (sweater) and waiting to join the love of his life wherever it is that old lovers go.
His daughter Sylvie (Stéphane Bissot), who loves her father no doubt but treats her visits to him more like that of a maid that a caring child, is having none of this and decides to get her new son-in-law, Alex (Yaniss Lespert), an aspiring writer who never smiles and seems reluctant to take on any kind of interim work, to tutor him in the wild and life-expanding ways of the internet.
It is a typical meeting of opposites – Pierre resents Alex, Alex, long over the magical romance that brought him to his girlfriend Juliette (Stéphanie Crayencour) who isn’t over previous boyfriend David (Pierre Kiwitt), isn’t enthused about being taken from his writing and together they seem less than thrilled by their enforced togetherness.
But as is the way of things in light cinematic confections such as this, they soon bond, Pierre happy to have someone to talk to and Alex, well honestly it is hard to know what this eternal sad sack is thinking but he sticks around so let’s say he’s into the friendship in some way and leave it at that.
As Pierre, who has no idea Alex is his granddaughter Juliette’s boyfriend, one of many plot-convenient contrivances in the film that mostly work, grows to enjoy Alex’s company and the wondrous possibilities of the internet, he warms to the idea of finding love again.
Cue enrolment on an internet dating site, meeting the delightful, recently-bereaved herself Flora (Fanny Valette) from Brussels – she is a decent train ride away from Paris where Pierre lives but he is more concerned by the who than the where as he amusingly explains to a perpetually-bemused Alex.
At the last minute, with an IRL meeting looming, Pierre convinces Alex, who is on the rocks with Juliette but still committed to whatever the hell he has with her – frankly neither of them are that attractive as human beings, beyond their obvious good looks, and so the death of their relationship affects you not one iota – to front for him on his first date with Flora, and the rest, as they say, is rom-com history.
If you think you know where this is all leading, you would be absolutely and completely right, and Robelin doesn’t really deviate from the trope-heavy, highly-predictable narrative.
It’s not really an issue since rom-com are, by definition, creatures of a fairly tightly-defined trajectory, happily erasing all obstacles to plot fulfilment with the alacrity of someone greeting their long-missed lover at the airport.
You expect disbelief to be not so much suspended, as entirely banished to the wastelands for eternity, but Mr Stein Goes Online stretches this cosy arrangement to breaking point at times, so intent on reaching the expected finish line – we will have our romantic ending dammit and it will be beautiful come what may! – that it goes a little bit beyond the niceties of a rom-com pact.
For instance, when Pierre and Alex’s deceit is revealed, as you know it must inevitably be, Flora reacts by handling it ridiculously easily, as if online dating is full of weird situations like this, and really what’s one more.
It’s all a little silly, even for a rom-com, but you end up forgiving this narrative silliness because the movie is so full of heart; the grief of Flora and Pierre at their lost loves is real, palpable and treated with a great deal of seriousness, which means not only are you disposed to wish these characters all the happiness in the world but you are equally happy to let them take whatever path they need to get there.
Sure, it pushes goodwill and boundaries, butMr Stein Goes Online is a genuinely funny, at times hilariously so, sweet and heartfelt film that runs hard with its farcical underpinnings, that heaves closely but winningly to its rom-com genre tropes, and in the end wins you over so completely that you are prepared to honour all kinds of weird and strange leaps all in the grand and epic name of true love.