Bits of Moliere's life do form a framework for the action of the movie: he was the well-educated son of a well-off middle-class family who went off to work in the theatre, and did spend thirteen years in the provinces perfecting his craft before returning to Paris to a successful career enjoying the patronage of the royal family.
Although it is true that Moliere's company had a notable lack of success before decamping for rural France, there is no indication he was ever arrested for debt, and he was certainly never bought out of prison to become the indentured acting coach of a social-climbing bourgeoisie, the events that begin the plot of this movie. In fact, Monsieur Jordain (Fabrice Luchini) and his long-suffering wife, Elmire (Laura Morante) are the real stars of the piece, although Moliere (Romain Duris) quickly falls into the role of the clever servant who helps sort out the family's domestic issues. Chief among these is Jourdain's social ambition. A wealthy commoner, he not only aspires to court connections, but has also conceived an inappropriate infatuation with the young, handsome, and heartless Marquise Célimène (Ludivine Segnier). He has tried to buy influence through the greedy and impoverished nobleman Dorante (Edouard Baer) who uses Jourdain and his money shamelessly, and hopes to marry his son to Jourdain's money--er, daughter. Jourdain hopes to attract the Marquise's attention by performing a vigniette of his own composition, and dragoons Moliere to help him prepare for it. Of course he can't tell his wife what he is up to, so introduces the actor into the house in priest's garb as a tutor for a younger daughter, under the name "M. Tartuffe". once there, he becomes reomantically involved with the neglected Elmire, and tangled up in plots to avoid having the elder daughter married off lovelessly to gain Dorante's son's title. Moliere is also instrumental in opening Jourdain's eyes about the Marquise and returning his affection to his wife.
Laura Morante as Elmire Jourdain is beautiful and dignified as a woman who believes she has outlived love, then finds passion being uncomfortably rekindled. Her lack of ability to manage her own life makes her a bit unlikely as Moliere's muse and font of wisdom, but it seems to work in their scenes together, which are both tender and elegant.
Romain Duris is fun to watch as Moliere, and is an impressive physical actor. The scene wherein he is giving acting lessions to Jourdain and not only mimics "a horse" but different BREEDS of horses is really well done. (The historical Moliere had a genuine natural talent for mimicry from an early age; however, I think his teaching techniques are a bit advanced for the times--.)
The plot is fun and one does not need to know Moliere's canon in order to enjoy it, but of course it enhances things if you do: Jourdain is the kind of personality that gave rise to satire characters such as Orgon in "Tartuffe," and bits occur that Moliere "later uses" (and of course are actually borrowed from) plays such as "Tartuffe," "Les Précieuses Ridicules" (The Affected Young Ladies)", and "Les Fourberies de Scapin" (Scapin's Deceits).
In French, with English subtitles.