‘Cheri’ borders on being sweet

Friday, June 26, 2009
Tom Long: Film Review: ‘Cheri’ — GRADE: C
Tom Long / Detroit News Film Critic

That the sum of “Cheri” isn’t nearly as impressive as it parts becomes apparent halfway through the movie, when it has been well-established that an aging prostitute (Michelle Pfeiffer) is going to be forced to give up her longtime boy toy (Rupert Friend) and face her own slowly withering beauty.

Once that’s established, the film keeps waiting for something to happen, but nothing really does. Based on a story by the French writer Colette, the crumbling beauty angst may have worked well on the page, but here it feels too slight to prop up an entire film.

Of course, context is everything and Pfeiffer isn’t playing just any prostitute. She is Lea de Lonval, the top courtesan of 1920s Paris, rich in a time when prostitutes were valued. In her 40s, she takes on a 19-year-old lover nicknamed Cheri (Rupert Friend), himself the son of a former top prostitute (Kathy Bates).

The spoiled, vacuous boy and the wealthy whore stay together for six years, at which point his mother decides it’s time for him to take a young bride. Which he does. Then for the rest of the film Cheri aches for Lea, and Lea aches for Cheri. As you may have heard, love hurts.

All this is done with great grace and precision, of course, the film coming from the same director (Stephen Frears) and screenwriter (Christopher Hampton) who helped make Pfeiffer a star with “Dangerous Liaisons.”

But while that film had its many plot contrivances, this film sticks with character, which isn’t enough, especially since Cheri himself is pretty much a cipher.

Pfeiffer, of course, is gorgeously faded. But, as the film itself notes, looks aren’t everything. There just isn’t enough beneath the surface in “Cheri” to justify all the talent on hand.

tlong@detnews.com (313) 222-8879

Original on Detroit News

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