Rated M (adult themes, sex scenes). 92 mins.
Sumptuous to look at, the beginning of the 20th century and La Belle Epoque in France, beautifully melancholic score by Alexander Desplats, articulate dialogue from Christopher Hampton, adapting a novel by Colette, and directed by Stephen Frears, who could ask for anything more? Well, we could.
So much cinematic effort put into a not dangerous liaisons plot but frivolous liaisons, the affairs of the narcissistic, seductive extortions of so much money from decadent playboys, the world of the glamorous French courtesans.
Maybe that is a touch puritanical, maybe more than a touch, but to spend time with these characters seems something of a waste.
Cheri is a welcome star vehicle for Michelle Pfeiffer (who starred 20 years earlier in Frears' Dangerous Liaisons) who brings beauty and vivacity to her role of the ageing courtesan, Lea, although she seems too nice to be as mercenary as the plot wants her to be. On the other hand, Kathy Bates does her typical good stuff and is more credible as the prostitute mother of Cheri, a nickname for her son, Fred, a pampered, effete young man who finds true love with Leah but who has to enter an arranged marriage. As Cheri, Rupert Friend (so much better as Prince Albert in The Young Victoria) seems, as Ronald Searle used to write, 'a wet and a weed', something of an aspiring Rupert Everett but not nearly as effective. He seems to be reciting many of his lines, especially in the final encounter with Lea, rather than acting.
And Frears borrows from himself (self-referential) with an ending where Michelle Pfeiffer (as Glenn Close did before her) gazes into a mirror.
There seems very little redemption for these characters - at least, in this life, though Lea's speech suggests something. But the final voiceover, spoken throughout the film by Frears himself, is simply despairing.
Icons Films Out July 23 2009
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.