- Directed by Stephen Frears
- Written by Christopher Hampton
- Starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates and Rupert Friend
- Classification: 14A
Screen actresses hoping for a lengthy career should look to specialize in lightweight comedy. Take Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts, busy romcom queens since the early nineties. Serious actresses, meaning those who would find fidgety Hugh Grant a chore, don't last nearly that long. Consider Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer, beautiful, stirring leading ladies - women of evident depth and soul - who have had almost nothing to do in Hollywood this decade.
They've banded together in Chéri , with Lange executive producing and Pfeiffer starring in an adaptation of Colette's tales of the Paris demimonde during La Belle Époque - the ceasefire between the Franco-Prussian War and the First World War.
Now why would a couple of smart American women want to do something like that, you might be thinking. Except, remember, Pfeiffer was quite good in Dangerous Liaisons and The Age of Innocence , love-is-war social dramas set in centuries past. And Colette is famous for knowing the female heart.
More reason for hope: British filmmaker Stephen Frears and playwright Christopher Hampton, the creative team that made Dangerous Liaisons so droll and dangerous, have reunited to show Pfeiffer around France. The actress plays Lea, an aging, still-vital Paris courtesan and clothes horse who, as the film begins, drops in on best friend Charlotte (Kathy Bates), a retired prostitute. They meet, deep-dish, drink, then gossip some more.
Sound familiar? Colette may know women and Paris in 1905, but the Sex and the City that Frears and Hampton have in mind would appear to be the HBO series of 1998-2004.
That's not entirely bad. Pfeiffer has a way with hats and Bates steals every scene not nailed down with a sledge hammer. "You smell wonderful," Charlotte tells Lea, then, lowering her eyes, brandishes the blade. "Don't you find that when the skin is a little less firm, it holds perfume so much better?"
But Sex and the City always knew the difference between frivolity and meaninglessness. The love stories had weight. The breakups threw off shrapnel.
Chéri really doesn't work because its central love story - Lea's romance with Charlotte's louche son (Rupert Friend, Pride & Prejudice ) - lacks dramatic force or even enough fun scenes to keep us going.
"Tell me something about yourself," Lea asks Chéri early on.
"There's nothing to tell," the teenager replies.
He's being honest. Chéri is beautiful, lazily funny and sweetly corrupt. Perhaps Lea sees her young self in him and feels 19 again. It happens. Still, it doesn't matter that they really love each other; what's vital is that the audience falls for them.
We don't. Worse, Lea and Chéri never make it to swank Paris clubs like Maxim's. In fact, they don't get out or say very much at all. Just hide out in lavish bedrooms, swimming in soft sheets and fleecy, piled-high blankets. Some romance. At times Chéri feels like a fabric-softener infomercial.
What's so distressing about Michelle Pfeiffer taking a mooning calf for a lover, though, is that it robs her of the quality that has always made her such an interesting actress. Ever since we first saw her descend in a glass elevator wearing a silk slip, lowering herself to be with Tony Montana in Scarface , Pfeiffer has exhibited an impulse for danger that is at war with her regal good looks.
She is at her best slow-dancing with the devil - consorting with drug dealers, mobsters, spies, jazz musicians and Satan himself in films such as Tequila Sunrise , Married to the Mob , The Russia House , The Fabulous Baker Brothers and The Witches of Eastwick .
What a drag to see her settle for a harmless pretty boy in a flower-filled French villa.
Special to The Globe and Mail