A lush costume drama with strong performances by Judy Davis and Mandy Patinkin, Impromptu has all the trappings of a Merchant/Ivory production. Its sly wit and subtle conflicts are always engaging, but what sets this film apart from some of the - for lack of a better word - boredom of Merchant/Ivory's work is the performance by Patinkin. Riding into a woman's bedroom on a horse, drunkenly shooting the officiant of a duel, and a garrulous braggart demeanor, Patinkin injects some energy to a film that desperately needs it. Davis's portrayal of George Sand is believable; no actress can capture Sand's masculine guise and still retain a strain of femininity like Davis.
What bothers me about the film is how the story ends up reinforcing the gender conventions of the time. George Sand pursues Chopin in a hybrid of a masculine assertiveness, but her eventual victory comes with subverting her desires to what's required of a typical female in the 19th Century. Even the man, Chopin, rows the boat in the final montage of coupledom bliss.
Overall, I liked Impromptu for Patinkin and Davis, but George Sand, a revolutionary feminist figure, deserved a better fate.
This is an 1840's love story, and it is set in France - so don't expect depth or dramatic intensity. There are times when it descends into comedy, even farce - possibly in a way that is authentically French; I cannot tell. But if you want to know what sort of a man Chopin was, I recommend it. Grant makes Chopin live for us - ironically perhaps, since we see him in the last years of his life, the fires of creativity and passion burning brightly. He is ascetic, polite, correct, physically frail yet spiritually strong. When he meets Sand he is initially remote and unreachable, but when he falls in love at last he is heartstoppingly vulnerable. This is a consummate piece of acting. If you are a Grant fan - and even more if you're not - watch this.