This is a triumph of style over substance. It is beautifully shot. The locations, sets and fashion are award-quality. Unfortunately, the story isn’t up to the rest. It’s based on two stories written by Colette.
This is yet another unimpressive outing by director Stephen Frears, who was responsible for the silly “Queen,” which treated facts as unnecessary obstacles to storytelling. He’s got a good subject and competent actors but the only thing you come away from this film with is admiration for the sets and fashions.
Lea de Lonvel (Michelle Pfeiffer) is an aging courtesan in La Belle Epoque France. Cheri (Rupert Fruend) is the son of her manipulative friend, Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates), an even older courtesan. Peloux conspires to have Cheri and Lea enter into a relationship, despite the 15 year difference in their ages. This allows Pfeiffer to be shot without the Doris Day filter to hide the lines in her face. She’s still beautiful, even with the lines.
Alas, the script (Christopher Hampton) is woefully slow and uninvolving. At 25, Cheri isn’t a callow youth but that’s the way he’s played. Cheri is anything but sympathetic. He and Lea live together for six years, and then Peloux fixes Cheri up with a wife, and they all live unhappily ever after. There were lots of plot holes but if you see it they will hit you in the face, and probably leave you wondering as it did me.
This could have been an interesting story in more competent hands. But if it weren’t for the beautiful sets and fashions, it would have been even more dismal to sit through than it actually was.