movie film review | chris tookey


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  Cheri Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
Average Rating
6.38 /10
Michelle Pfeiffer , Kathy Bates , Rupert Friend
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Directed by: Stephen Frears
Written by: Christopher Hampton , based on two novels by Colette

Released: 2009
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: UK/ France/ Germany
Colour: C
Length: 92

The premise behind this tragi-comedy, based on two novels by Colette, may seem unpromising and even distasteful. It’s about a veteran Parisian courtesan of the early twentieth century (Michelle Pfeiffer, pictured left) who embarks on a scandalous, six-year affair with a young man of eighteen (Rupert Friend, right).
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Eventually his mother (Kathy Bates), herself a former courtesan, marries him off to a pretty, rich but inexperienced girl (the exquisite young actress Felicity Jones), with disastrous consequences.

Screenwriter Christopher Hampton and director Stephen Frears, together for the first time since Dangerous Liaisons 20 years ago, cleverly negotiate the pitfalls of the scenario.

They are helped by the wit of Colette and the physical charms of their leading actors. There’s extraordinary sexual chemistry between Pfeiffer and Friend, which neatly overcomes the age difference.

Her lust for a lithe body and handsome face turns into gut-twisting vulnerability, offset by a determination that she shall not become an object of pity, or a laughing stock.

His youthful self-centredness matures into an awareness that he has obligations to his young wife, and can not be a toy boy all his life. And yet… doesn’t he love his old flame, despite her age?

Early on as I was watching, I wrote down grumpily that Cheri was “like Gigi without the songs”, that Stephen Frears’ omniscient narration seemed unnecessary, and that audiences would come out whistling the sets.

But gradually I fell in love with it; and even the seemingly redundant narration comes into its own in the final moments.

There won’t be a more visually seductive picture this year, with gorgeous art nouveau design by Alan MacDonald and Denis Schnegg, flamboyant costumes by Consolata Boyle and superb cinematography by Darius Khondji, but its beauty is more than skin deep.

It appears at first to be a brittle, escapist costume comedy, but it deepens to become the film that Benjamin Button aspired to be: a moving tragedy about the passing of time.

Michelle Pfeiffer has been Oscar-worthy before, notably in Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons and Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, but this is the performance of her life. Now in her fifties, she looks more stunning than ever, and her mesmerising performance combines comedic charm, tragic depth and that never-to-be-underrated ingredient, sex appeal.

Another possible contender at next year’s Oscars, albeit as supporting actress, is Kathy Bates, hilariously bitchy in a variety of outrageously bosomy outfits. She gives top-quality comic support as she pursues her selfish agenda while dispensing unwanted advice to all around her, like the belle epoque’s answer to Edna Everage.

There’s a cavalcade of British talent in smaller roles, with such fine but undervalued actresses as Frances Tomelty, Nichola McAuliffe and Gaye Brown all memorable in different ways.

However, the revelation, even after his promising performances as Mr Wickham in Pride and Prejudice and Prince Albert in The Young Victoria, is Rupert Friend.

Emerging from the shadow of his real-life amour Keira Knightley and defying those who dismiss him as an Orlando Bloom lookalike, he delivers a nuanced, sensitive performance which confirms he is an extremely gifted actor with a long and glorious career ahead of him.

Frears has always been skilful at eliciting terrific performances from actors, from Daniel Day Lewis in My Beautiful Laundrette through to Helen Mirren in The Queen. But this is his most stylish and cinematic film yet, and in his late sixties he’s revealing a wisdom and relaxed maturity that put most directors to shame.

And let’s not forget one more up-and-comer. The film is immaculately produced by someone not normally associated with cinema, Bill Kenwright, who should have been knighted years ago for his services to theatre.

Over the past ten years, he’s cleverly adapted his talents to the cinema. Cheri radiates quality in every department, and – whether it’s a popular success or not - this splendid achievement establishes him as one of Britain’s very best film producers.

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