Predictable yet charming, “The Grand Role” is a crowd-pleasing dramatic comedy about love, friendship, role-playing and Jewish pride that echoes the “well-intentioned ruse” plot elements of such disparate works as Jacques Fansten’s “Cross My Heart,” Laurent Cantet’s “Time Out” and Wolfgang Becker’s “Good Bye, Lenin!” Sophomore effort from actor-helmer Steve Suissa (“Taking Wing”) emerged empty-handed from Paris fest competish and kept a low profile in a non-competitive Karlovy Vary section, but will play well beyond the Jewish fest circuit on the strength of positive word-of-mouth, surfing fall opening in Gaul to good arthouse biz, tube sales and homevid runs.
So in love with his wife, Perla (Berenice Bejo), that he photographs her when she’s not looking just for the heck of it, struggling Parisian actor Maurice Kurtz (Stephane Freiss) earns a meager income dubbing foreign films with pals Simon (Lionel Abelanski), Elie (Laurent Bateau), Edouard (Stephan Guerin-Tillie) and Sami (Olivier Sitruk).
When news hits that A-list superstar American film director Grishenberg (Peter Coyote) is prepping a big-budget Yiddish-lingo movie version of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” the boys gear up for the audition with unrestrained enthusiasm. “Come dressed as a Jew,” advises their blustery agent, Benny (Francois Berleand).
To his astonishment, Maurice lands the coveted role of Shylock, only to lose it a few days later when Grishenberg is forced to give it to an American star. In the meantime, Perla has discovered she’s dying of cancer. Balance of pic finds Maurice and his chums going to ever greater lengths to make Perla feel better by persuading her that in his new role, her hubby’s the toast of the town.
Though telegraphing its every move with unabashed cheerfulness, “Grand Role” benefits from a sprightly pace, sunny thesping (though camaraderie among the chums is occasionally forced) and fine comic timing. Conceit of Grishenberg’s determination to shoot in Yiddish echoes a certain recent faith-based B.O smash, while Coyote himself delivers the best line: After being kidnapped in his own limo, Grishenberg refuses to meet Perla and go along with the gag. “I’m an American,” he says with brittle dignity. “Americans don’t lie.”
Appropriately for a film emphasizing words and relationships, the tech package is discreetly capable. Pungent use is made of Charles Aznavour’s vigorous “Le temps” over opening and closing credits. Suissa appears in the small role of Perla’s sister’s husband.