Mr Stein Goes Online is an Internet twist on the old Cyrano de Bergerac plot, where an unappealing swain employs a good-looking surrogate to stand in for him on a date.
In the very French Mr Stein Goes Online, Alex and Juliette are so broke they’re forced to live with Juliette’s mother. But Mum has a possible job for Alex.
Juliette’s grandfather Pierre (Pierre Richard) has locked himself away ever since his wife died, so Alex is sent round to Pierre’s place to teach old Mr Stein how to use his computer.
With bad grace, Alex introduces the old man to the Internet – and to dating sites.
Pierre starts making contact with potential dates, and decides he’ll be a better catch if he used young Alex’s photo instead of his own.
He makes a connection with the gorgeous Flora, and seduces her with his French way with words.
When she agrees on a date with Pierre-as-Alex, Pierre insists the real Alex has to stand in for him.
You know, like Cyrano de Bergerac.
Alex is bullied into dropping everything to go on the date with Flora, while Pierre pulls the strings from his cellphone.
Before you know it - well, not long before you know it, we all saw it coming – Alex is attracted to Flora, despite nominally still living with Pierre’s granddaughter Juliette. This leads to a series of merry mixups with a strong French accent.
In other words, underneath the Internet, Tinder dates and cellphones, Mr Stein Goes Online is an old-fashioned French farce. Alex is forced to juggle his new pretend girlfriend Flora with his real one Juliette, while Grampa stirs things up in the background.
But while the atmosphere remains frothy and Gallic, the slightly queasy undertow of a 75-year-old roué chasing after a 30-something woman doesn’t sit too well in today’s climate. You think it’s a bit iffy? MeToo, to coin a phrase.
But that’s the French for you, I suppose, and like most successful French farces, the plot goes like the clockwork they so often resemble.
One thing leads to another and away from something else, until sooner or later everyone ends up where they should be, and true love – or at least l’amour – conquers all.
Mr Stein Goes Online may have a few trendy modern attachments, but at its heart it’s as rooted in French tradition as Georges Feydeau, Guy de Maupassant and Cyrano de Bergerac.
Best taken with champagne, in other words.