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CHERI(director: Stephen Frears; screenwriters: based on the novels “Chéri” and “The Last of Chéri” by Colette/Christopher Hampton; cinematographer: Darius Khondji; editor: Lucia Zucchetti; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Michelle Pfeiffer (Léa de Lonval), Rupert Friend (Chéri), Felicity Jones (Edmée), Kathy Bates (Madame Peloux), Iben Hjejle (Marie-Laure), Stephen Frears (Narrator), Frances Tomelty (Rose), Harriet Walter (The Aunt), Anita Pallenberg (La Copine); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Bill Kenwright/ Andras Hamori/Tracey Seaward; Miramax Films; 2008-UK/France/Germany)
“A limp whore’s tale set in the turn of the 20th-century in Paris.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A limp whore’s tale set in the turn of the 20th-century in Paris. It’s sumptuous but the tripe dialogue might tempt you to put a gun to your head long before the results of an unlikely love match becomes known. It’s directed as a self-important period piece by Stephen Frears (“The Queen”/”Dangerous Liaisons”/”Dirty Pretty Things”), without doing much to create that century’s atmosphere except through costumes and scenery and one shot of Maxim’s (the holy grail saloon hangout for the high-society rollers). Frears, who also is the narrator, informs us of the amorality of French society in the early 20th century. That was seen as a time when enterprising young women could obtain fortunes by being courtesans to rich, older upper-class admirers and if clever could retire to spend their later years living an empty but luxurious life on their earnings and even supporting young men lovers. Writer Christopher Hampton bases it on the novels “Chéri” and “The Last of Chéri” by Colette. This tedious slow slog through a Belle Epoque tale of romance between an experienced older retired courtesan Léa de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a spoiled youth about half her age, the effete looking dissolute nicknamed Cheri (Rupert Friend), reverberates with the author’s belief in materialism, power trips and sensuality as the highest of all human pursuits. The trivial pursuits of the lovers never gets past being trivial, despite all the gasping for depth and something to say that isn’t risible.

Aging courtesan Léa retires and retreats to her Normandy estate with the 19-year-old Cheri, the son of the retired aged courtesan Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates). For six years he’s tutored by Léa in the art of love and dealing with society folks, then the manipulative Peloux fixes sonny boy up with the refined virgin and wealthy 19-year-old daughter of a fellow retired courtesan, Marie-Laure (Iben Hjejle), named Edmée (Felicity Jones). They marry and live unhappily in luxury ever after, with self-sacrificing Léa losing the love of her life due to the age discrepancy and the poor lad not realizing until it’s too late what a piece of tail he had just lost.

If I was supposed to be moved by this, I couldn’t be as I had quite a time just trying to stay awake.

What makes this film even worse than it is, is that all the stars are miscast. Pfeiffer, at 51, gives an uneven performance that lacks passion and stridently tosses out her lines and never gets to her character’s essence; Bates is just in the wrong role in the wrong pic; while Friend has no charisma to make him endearing as the sad sack pretty toy boy lover who takes his idleness too seriously and seems to have little chemistry with Pfeiffer.

The humorless flat pic could have used something to make it more spicy, because it certainly wasn’t erotic and aside from being a visual feast it tasted like yesterday’s rancid meat.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”