Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews

Movie Review - Michelle Pfeiffer in Chéri




picture - CheriMovie Review

by William Gooch

published July 5, 2009



rated R

now playing in select theaters


Mature Hollywood actresses are always complaining about the lack of good roles for women over 40. I recall – in Rosanna Arquette’s estrogen-charged, 2002 gabfest Searching for Debra Winger – Martha Plimpton blasting Hollywood directors who questioned mature actresses marketability after they deemed those actresses had lost their f**kability.

Interestingly in Academy Award–winning director Stephen Frears’Chéri, Michelle Pfeiffer portrays an aging French courtesan whose choice in young lovers is in question, not her allure or formidable bedroom attributes. Based on French novelist Colette’s 1920 novels Chéri and The Last of Chéri, Frears brilliantly unveils the lush Belle Epoque world of French courtesans, wealthy dandies, and the gilded pastimes of the idle rich.


picture - CheriPfeiffer shines in this romantic tribute to women who broke with the traditions of polite society and created a world of luxury, intrigue and financial viability based on their abilities to enchant, seduce and captivate suitors. Pfeiffer has always been admired as an actress with a classically beautiful visage; however, in the role of the aging Lea, the dew is definitely off of the rose. Still, Pfeiffer’s dominating screen presence enchants and brings nuance to a role that speaks to the possibility of love in spite of aging beauty and diminished deliciousness. And this is what makes her Lea an appealing and sympathetic character. In spite of plying a trade where romance is hazardous unless coupled with financial gain, for Lea, the probability of true love and a marriage of the minds are never completely off the table. Only this time, love comes in the very young package of the 19 year-old son of a former rival courtesan.
As Lea’s young love interest, Chéri, Rupert Friend renders a characterization that marries youthful petulance with the ardent passion that accompanies first love. Lea and Chéri’s May/December affair is a true meeting of the minds because they both inhabit and understand the demimonde of literary salons, rich dandies and courtesans. Lea understands that Chéri is looking for a mother with benefits and Chéri is aware that Lea desires sexual virility without demands.  Lea has also come to a time in her in profession where "the shop is still open, but there are very few customers." Everything is simpatico until Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates), Chéri’s mother, throws a monkey wrench into the arrangement by arranging a financially fortuitous marriage between Chéri and the daughter of one of the richest courtesans in Paris.


picture - CheriAlthough Frears is successful in conjuring up the culture of the demimonde, the lilt and cadence of French culture is practically nonexistent. With the exception of panoramic views of the French Rivera and Parisian arondissements, Chéri could have been set in Victorian London. And the British accents of some of the actors also distract from placing this film in its proper milieu.

That said; Frears has crafted a film that is a delight on many levels. Like Frears' Dangerous Liaisons, Cheri's rich cinematography evokes a bygone era of polite manners and opulence. And the finely etched performances of Bates and Pfeiffer overshadow Cheri's sometimes catty biting dialogue. But more importantly, after a five-year absence from leading roles it is a delight to again see Michelle Pfeiffer in a role that merits her immense talent.


williamgooch @


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