This underachiever treads thru some classic Molière, hoping, without much luck, that something will stick. A pained-looking Lambert Wilson is the successful tv actor trying to coax a reluctant old colleague (toothsome Fabrice Luchini) back on the stage for Molière’s THE MISANTHROPE. The perfectly workable gimmick here is that the all but retired Luchini really is a misanthrope, ripe for the role if he’ll only admit it. Soon these middle-aged men fight over who plays lead and who second, test drive every line, weigh every accent and vie for the new girl in town. (As for what this young woman sees in them . . . ?) Anyone with a vague notion of the play will guess where this is going, but we never get much below the surface of the characters in or out of the play. We’re busy with detours on a disgruntled cabby, a dodged vasectomy or a budding porn performer looking for acting tips. The little Molière we do get comes out as dead rhetoric between clenched teeth & gargled ‘R’s.’ And Molière’s masterful tone in this heartache of a comedy, a sort of nihilistic melancholy, is left all but untouched.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: Though Molière is constantly staged and adapted for tv, remarkably few films have been tried. A DON JUAN/‘98 and a larky bio-pic (MOLIÈRE/’97) are typical disappointments. English speakers are better off digging up the superb rhymed translations of Richard Wilbur. His MISANTHROPE adaptation is on YOUTUBE, but in a not so hot production. Instead, read it out loud yourself. You’ll be speaking in rhymed couplets for days after.