Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Sour Grapes (Cheri)
Ah-hoy! Spoilers Ahead.
Cheri (based on the novel by Colette) is a romance starring Michelle Pfeffier as an older woman whose place of business is her bed.
Pfeffier plays Lea, a legendary whore with a string of lovers. They've kept her living in fine style until she falls for her co-worker's son, nicknamed "Cheri".
Cheri is the son of Madame Peloux (played by Kathy Bates) a former competitor until she hung up her boots as it were.
As the son of a whore, Cheri has a certain sense of detachment when it comes to romance. He's also a bit of a strange duck, with a vampire's complexion and the hair of Edward Scissorhands.
Due to the strange casting it took me a while to decide that yes, they are in England, sometime before the First World War. You see the Butler is British, the housemaid is British...and Kathy Bates and Michelle Pfeffier's characters? Well they sound outright American, let's call them "refined".
To his credit director Stephen Frears doesn't keep us in suspense for too long regarding the romance of the snarky couple. It's barely ten minutes before Cheri says "Kiss Me" and and a boy-toy is born.
The initial romantic encounters are sensual, the screen covered in the slurps and skin of the two lovers. Soon they fall into a comfortable state of affairs, neither needing to put on airs. The arrangement last for six years until Mama Bates decides to marry her young man away.
And here we get to the crux of the story. The two lovers, both too proud to admit their feelings, each walking away from each other, each afraid to turn around. It's a familiar set up, and while we wait for the inevitable reunion what are we treated to?
Lea and Cheri, mooning over each other. One a scowl with a top hat. And the other, the tragic beauty. Cheri moves onto breaking in his wife with astounding brutality. And Lea spends her time seducing muscle boys and looking at herself in the mirror. Tracing the pale lines beneath her skin.
Now some may find it revolutionary to have Michelle Pfiffier playing a woman who is beautiful and yet over the age of 26. But there is something to be said for acting, rather than just posing and hoping your perfect frame will do the heavy lifting for you.
When Lea sits up in bed one night, crying out "Cheri!" It's laughable. When the two finally reconnect, it's predictable. The only emotion I felt was relief after 45 minutes of the inevitable. A couple meets, parts and returns. That's not a plot, it's a dance step.
Cheri is trying to pose as a tragedy, a woman who discovered her heart, only too late in life. But with the unconvincing performances and super-busy set design this movie is strangled by superficially. All the more amazing if you remember director Frears' The Queen a movie rich in subtly and moments of contemplation. (Think of the Queen staring at the proud buck in the wild.)
Sadly no royalty here, just a limp love letter to faded beauty. Pity.