Although reuniting the director, writer, and star of 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons, the new Michelle Pfeiffer drama Chéri doesn’t pack the same wallop as its predecessor. It’s all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Michelle Pfeiffer is still very hot. She’s great looking and has a killer body. She’s also a very good actress who commands the screen and displays needed emotion perfectly. All these skills are on display but mostly go to waste in the boring Chéri. Pfeiffer stars as early-20th-century French courtesan Lea de Lonval. Reaching the age of retirement for women who sell their companionship and bodies to the rich and powerful of Europe, she faces a long but financially comfortable retirement. Her former rival, the also-retired and super-rich Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates), asks Lea to provide some “guidance” to her layabout, jerky son, Fred, also called Chéri (Rupert Friend.)
Lea and Chéri soon bond, and the story then quickly (a little too quickly) jumps forward six years, with Charlotte setting Chéri up to marry Edmee (Felicity Jones), the daughter of yet another former rival courtesan. Don’t these women socialize with anyone else? The problem with the marriage is that in the proceeding (unseen) six years, Lea and Chéri have fallen in love. Neither will admit it as Chéri and Edmee take their vows, but both pine for the other while Charlotte does her best to keep them apart.
There are quite a few problems with Chéri, but they don’t include the performances of Pfeiffer and Bates, who are the original frenamies. The script, though, by Dangerous Liaisons and Atonement writer Christopher Hampton, lets them down. The initital relationship between Lea and Chéri is given short-shrift, so their parting for his marriage doesn’t carry the emotional weight it should. In fact, Chéri doesn’t seem to have changed much and is still as self-centered and unlikable six years later as he was when he and Lea first hooked up. We don’t root for him or feel his pain at being torn between marrying Edmee or running off with Lea.
Director Stephen Frears doesn’t seem to want to make this movie as long as it needs to be. More time is needed to explore the relationship between Lea and Chéri, and also between Chéri and Edmee. A narrator is used to shortcut a lot of plot development, but it just means that nothing much happens during the course of the movie. Jones does what she can, but her role is horribly underwritten. In fact, there really isn’t enough plot here to sustain the movie. There isn’t the deviousness or betrayal of Dangerous Liaisons, just Lea pining for Chéri and him pining back and people saying things like, “you’re so beautiful and have so much money, but your life is so empty.”
It’s a shame that a good Pfeiffer performance isn’t put to better use. The movie is beautiful to look at with the whole nice-costumes, nice-sets, nice-music thing going, but it doesn’t add up to much. Bring Lea back without Chéri and with a better script and we might have something.
Miramax has released a pretty bare-bones DVD for Chéri. It’s not surprising, considering the movie made $84 at the box office. Ok, slightly more than that, but certainly not enough to spend any money on a movie with no box office receipts and little critical love.
The film doesn’t have a commentary, and that actually surprises me a little. Obviously, Pfeiffer wasn’t going to be bothered, but maybe the writer could drop in to talk about his influences or what was missing from the script, adapted from two books by 1920s author Colette.
The only real extra is an almost nine-minute making-of. It’s not particularly impressive, but it gets the job done. Everyone says that the book was great and the script was great and the stars were great and the movie is great. If you know nothing about the era it represents, it does give a bit of background, but other than that, it’s very standard.
Also included are two deleted scenes. One is absurd. It’s 17 seconds of Lea and her butler walking down a staircase, talking about the baseboards or something. I mean, who cares? Why even bother with that? The other one is a little more interesting. It’s a scene between Chéri and Lea where they talk in joking terms about parting, but it does make you think about their actual parting somewhat. But at under two minutes, it’s hardly worth the effort, either.
That’s it for the DVD. The picture and sound quality are good, after all this is a major studio release. The whole thing is just a very meh movie with a very meh DVD.