In much the same way that 'Shakespeare in Love' dealt with its protagonist, this French comedy does not try to tell the life story of the famed French playwright after whom it is named.
Instead, 'Molière' is a journey of comic fiction. Based not on historical fact, the story is set during the dramatist's younger days when, for the sake of the audience's amusement, he happens upon a series of remarkable and uncanny events with some curious characters on which many of his well-known comedies become based. Indeed, it can easily be described as the playwright Molière in a Molière play.
The film begins briefly in the mid 17th century when the widely renowned Jean-Baptiste Poquelin dit Molière (Duris) gets word from a lost love that soon has our hero recalling a stage of his life 13 years before which, in hindsight, ended up of most importance in directing him from his humble beginnings onto a path of grand achievement.
At the time, he is a struggling actor in debt, who is thrown in prison until he pays what he owes. Unable to earn money from his cell, he is set for a long and futile existence. However, his debt is covered by a rich and ignorant man, Monsieur Jourdain (Luchini), who wants him to help seduce Célimène (Sagnier), a pretty but inconsiderate noble widow with whom he is smitten. As part of the deal Molière must also pose as a priest so Jourdain's wife Elmire (Morante) does not suspect her husband's motives of having a stranger living with them in the family manor.
What follows is quite an enjoyable film as the hero begins to take pleasure involving himself in all the various subplots the story has to offer, and he soon becomes both a source of advice and intrigue to most of the characters. The acting is good throughout, the comedy is wide ranging and the intricate storyline is engaging.
Some might say that many of the characters, with the exception of Molière and Elmire, are one-dimensional, which they are. There are others who might add that the film fails to encapsulate the tortured soul of the dramatist. But neither takes away from what the film sets out to be, an enjoyable comedy that tells its own story and certainly not one that clings to history. To my mind it succeeds satisfactorily.