Now Showing at: Mariemont Theatre
Review by: Larry Thomas
Sometimes a film comes along that has the look and feel of a class reunion, of sorts. Such is the case with Chéri. Based on the 1950 novel of the same name by the French author Colette, who had penned Gigi just one year earlier, Chéri reunites some splendid talent. Director Stephen Frears, screenwriter Christopher Hampton, and star Michelle Pfeiffer collaborate for the first time since their 1988 hit Dangerous Liasons.
Michelle Pfeiffer has proven herself a wonderful performer in such films as The Fabulous Baker Boys, in which she was definitely a 20th century fox. In Chéri, she’s a 19th century cougar,
and proves to one and all that a fine actress need not be sidelined simply because she’s over forty. Pfeiffer plays a French courtesan, in that era a most acceptable profession, who is aging and wondering who might be her next encounter. Surprisingly, she makes the unprofessional error of falling in love…not with one of her clients, but with the 19-year old-son of a friend-rival. His name is Fred, but the in-crowd at Maxim’s Restaurant has nicknamed him Chéri. Fred’s mum, played by the always interesting Kathy Bates, is not pleased with the affair, and arranges a marriage for her son with the daughter of yet another friend-rival. Despite how this all sounds, it’s not a comedy, but rather a bittersweet romantic drama, that does have moments of humor, especially from Hampton’s witty dialogue.
Hampton’s writing and Frears’s direction worked wonders for the career of Helen Mirren in the Oscar-winning The Queen. Although it’s doubtful that Pfeiffer will end up with the prized gold statue, the film is an excellent showcase for her talent, and she grasps the character quite admirably. Newcomer Rupert Friend as Fred looks young and acts young, just as he should. While not a particularly magnetic actor, he suits the part. Felicity Jones, who was in last year’s version of Brideshead Revisited, has little to do as Fred’s arranged wife. That’s too bad, as she has the potential to be really good. But then, the film is not about her character.
Two other cinematic craftsmen add immeasurably to the proceedings, giving the film a look and sound that is most impressive.
The cinematography is by Iranian photographer Darius Khondji, who was Oscar-nominated for his stunning work on Evita. He keeps the film looking just right with both lush vistas and intimate close-ups.
The French composer Alexandre Desplat, who was Oscar-nominated for both The Queen and last year’s Benjamin Button, supplies a heartfelt score that accompanies the story perfectly. It is melodic without being overbearing, and certainly worth listening to on its own.
At a comparatively brief 92 minutes, Chéri moves along briskly, getting the story across without wearing out its welcome. If you’re a fan of Masterpiece Theatre, or Merchant-Ivory films, Chéri should be your cup of cinematic tea.
The R-rated Chéri is now showing at the Mariemont Theatre.