Michelle Pfeiffer plays a cougar from another era in this delightful film.
Overall Grade: B
Date Movie Grade: C
Girls' Night Grade: B+
Overview: Although Cheri, like its title character, does not reach the depth it strives for, it nonetheless is an enjoyable picture—for those who like the period piece genre.
Cheri takes place in France during the years leading up to World War I, a period known as the Belle Epoque, when people treasured beauty, wealth and decadence. Michelle Pfeiffer stars as an aging courtesan, Lea de Lonval, who is considered the most beautiful and desirable woman in her trade. A courtesan, explains a male narrator at the beginning of the film, is a woman who uses her sexuality to accumulate vast fortunes from wealthy men. In other words, an intelligent, witty prostitute. Read: Prostitution: A Recession-Free Gig?
We are thrown into the plot right at the start, as Lea visits another retired courtesan, Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates), and her son, the 19-year-old playboy, Cheri (Rupert Friend). Cheri is tired of his life of drinking and women, and Lea is on the verge of retirement, unsure of what life has in store for her. When they reconnect, their attraction is instantaneous and their affair begins as the two kiss on the sunporch while Cheri's mother watches from inside. The couple moves to one of Lea's homes and the sex scene between them exudes both an erotic sensuality as they pleasure one another and a fulfillment of finding what each has been longing for. It is almost as if each is equally seducing the other.
Although their affair just began (it is only a few minutes into the film), the movie jumps ahead six years where we see Cheri has been living with Lea. At this point the film's conflicts arise as Lea learns that Charlotte has arranged a marriage for her son, so that he can have a family. What transpires is a game of back and forth that is fraught with emotion, manipulation and sexual desire. Read: Decoding Female Desire: What Makes Us Tick?
Cheri is directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen) and was written for the screen by Christopher Hampton (Atonement) based on the novel by the French writer Colette. Frears and Hampton brought us the stunning Dangerous Liaisons in 1989, starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Pfeiffer.
Critique: Cheri almost works as a film, but ultimately unfolds as a somewhat amusing, beautiful picture book. The problem is mainly that the voice-over narrator tells plots and, at times, the characters' inner dialogue, rather than letting the story and acting show us. Some moments of emotion and ecstasy are clichéd. The scenery is gorgeous, as is the costuming, especially Pfeiffer's large and exquisite hats and Bates' borderline ridiculous dresses. Read: 10 Fashion and Beauty Must-Haves
Although overall the movie is not astounding, the actresses' performances make it worth your money. Pfeiffer is always a presence on screen, and she delivers once again. Bates possesses the necessary cunning and humor that she portrays so well in all of her supporting roles. The dialogue between the two women was fun, though not revolutionary. Regardless, it's a pleasure to watch two fine actresses perform that "stab you with my words while smiling" repartee of yesteryear.
What Cheri tells us about love and relationships is contradicting, thus reminding us that often there is no right answer in the game of love and desire. First, we are to be wary of a large disparity between ages of lovers (or other such societal obstacles) because ultimately those involved will often want different paths as they age. While Lea may have been the original cougar, Cheri was really just a boy who thought he needed to leave her in order to have a family. But the film also says, in the final voice-over, that to follow society's rules instead of your heart can lead to unhappiness and heartbreak. It is this ambiguous outlook on love that makes the movie both interesting and good fodder for après-film discussion. Read: 10 Ways to Mend a Broken Heart
We wouldn't recommend this as a date movie, especially if your man is younger or bored by slow pacing and romantic plotlines. We gave it a B for people who enjoy period pieces, love-torn stories, and Pfeiffer and Bates. If that is what you're looking for, Cheri provides it in a nice 92-minute package. So next movie night, go with some girlfriends and enjoy some eye candy in a film full of beautiful people dressed in opulent clothing (or, frequently, undressed) set against gorgeous vistas.
Cheri opens Friday, June 26 in select cities. Check out the official website here.
Photo Courtesy of Screenhead