Sunday, November 29, 2009

Movie Log: Cheri

When a movie doesn't quite succeed, there are many possible explanations. Perhaps the actor playing the title character was insufficient to the job, or perhaps he wasn't given enough to work with. Perhaps the bigger-name female star bent the project to make her character the center, and that threw off the balance. Perhaps the story is set in a world long gone, and none of the movie-making team could quite get into the mindset enough to make it all seem plausible.

Any one of those problems -- or all of them, or others -- may have been responsible for Cheri. Or, perhaps, the movie was successful, and it was the viewer who failed to properly appreciate it. But, for one reason or another, it didn't quite work -- and it didn't work entirely because I couldn't see what Michele Pfeiffer's Lea -- or anyone, for that matter -- could possibly see in the vapid, self-obsessed, lethargic, dull and unpleasant young man called Cheri.

Cheri (Rupert Friend) is attractive and young, yes -- but Lea is a high-class courtesan of long standing, and has extracted tens of thousands of francs from better men than him before breakfast. He's the son of one of her few friends, former courtesan Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates, unacountably overemphasizing too many syllables in her speeches), and Peloux more or less asks Lea to take Cheri and educate him.

She supposedly does this -- they're together for six years, from when Cheri is nineteen -- but he's just as unpleasant and tedious at the end as at the beginning. We see no sign that he's gained any maturity or poise, and he never treats Lea well. He's mildly obsessed with her, or at least with keeping her from having affairs with anyone else, but that's as far as his interest in anything outside himself goes.

Pfeiffer is radiant, and allows herself to age (gracefully) as the movie goes on. But she's emoting in a void, since Friend's part is written (or acted, or edited -- it's difficult to see exactly where the fault lay) entirely in one note. Cheri does not seem to want to be the story of how one aging woman makes a horrible mistake in her love life and never realizes it, but that's the story it ends up telling. The intrusive narration, which also attempts to tell us what to feel without much effect, doesn't help the cause.

Cheri does have several nice sex scenes, demurely staged, between Pfeiffer and Friend, who are both quite attractive. For some viewers, that will be enough. But those who are interested in the story, and who like to see a little reciprocality, or plausibility, in their love stories, will end up disappointed.
Listening to: Immaculate Machine - Roman Statues
via FoxyTunes

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