What's an aging, overweight lounge singer to do when a haunted, beautiful woman half his age waltzes into his life in a beguiling red dress? If he's Gérard Depardieu, he finishes his set and then finds a reason to talk to her. In The Singer, directed by Xavier Giannoli, Depardieu plays Alain Moreau, a minor star whose fan base is weighted heavily toward the gray-haired, cane-and-walker set. When Marion (the lovely and enchanting Cécile De France) shows up at the nightclub where Moreau croons away his nights (backed up by a band with a penchant for purple satin shirts), Moreau is instantly entranced.
On the surface, it would seem there is very little to attract these two people. Moreau is twice Marion's age; he is overweight, and she doesn't even know who he is -- she's surprised, in fact, that older women seem so enthralled by him, and that he's constantly approached for autographs and fan photos. The classic French love songs that Moreau makes a living singing mean nothing to Marion. Marion, on the other hand, is a trim, smartly dressed young woman who works in the real estate business for Moreau's friend Bruno (who also has a thing for her). In spite of Marion repelling all his fumbling advances, Moreau persists, and eventually, Marion begins to thaw. There's more to this pair under the surface than meets the eye; in spite of their obvious differences, underneath they are both very lonely people. Moreau has a long-term relationship with his manager (and former back-up singer), Michele (Christine Citti), who finally got romantically involved with their mutual friend Daniel (Patrick Pineau) after years of waiting for Moreau. The three of them have this odd friendship in which both men have a sexual relationship and feelings of varying degrees for Michele, while she remains emotionally stranded somewhere between the two men, unable to fully love Daniel because she can't fully let go of her feelings for Moreau.
Marion, meanwhile, is a divorced mother whose young son lives with her controlling and emotionally abusive ex. Marion lives alone in a cold and lonely hotel room, seeing her son sporadically, convinced by her son's preference for his nanny and her own crumbled sense of self-worth that she is unable to be a good mother to him. Like a lot of women rebuilding their lives in the wake of a failed relationship, Marion is adrift, uncertain, and emotionally walled off. The more Moreau tries gently to woo her, the more she pulls back. But Moreau, feeling alive again for the first time in years, is an ardent pursuer and not so easily pushed aside.
The Singer is a sweet, charming little film, and Depardieu and de France both turn in solid performances. This is Depardieu's best performance in years; he captures perfectly the loneliness, self-recrimination and deep sorrow of this aging performer hoping desperately for one last shot at blissful love with a subtlety you don't usually see out of him. de France sparkles, and she's perfectly charming and enchanting, and there's decent enough chemistry between the two leads to keep it believable (although, personally, I found the love triangle of Moreau, Michele and Daniel to be the more interesting storyline).
In spite of solid performances (and Depardieu's singing -- he reportedly did all his own singing for the film, and he does a pretty good job as a lounge performer), though, somehow the film doesn't fully fire on all cylinders, and it's hard to pinpoint exactly why. It's a little long, for one thing, and could do with about 15-20 minutes worth of trimming. In spite of its flaws, though, The Singer is a solid film, certainly Depardieu's best in years, and if it gets enough play it will likely generate a whole new wave of interest in the craggy-faced Frenchman from the very type of women who flock around Moreau.