The hooker of Loamshire

Period drama works as a wax museum of genres

Cheri
Studio: Miramax Films
Rated: R
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates, Rupert Friend, Bette Bourne, Iben Hjejle
Director: Stephen Frears, Eliot Mathews, Felix Baudouin
WorkNameSort: Cheri
Our Rating: 3.00

Maybe it's a sign of the post-traumatic American times that United States cinema distributors are treating the public to nice, temperate, restrained British costume dramas lately.

Earlier this month, Sony Pictures Classics brought us Easy Virtue, a comedy of manners from that paragon of wartime British poise Noel Coward ' something light and fun that seemed to hedge its bets that post-Bush moviegoers' mood was most akin to the escapist niceties of 1950s British theater, a point that's hard to argue in the wake of the massive success of Star Trek and The Hangover.

In the face of Terminator's nihilism and Angels & Demons' fear-mongering ' both struggling domestically ' the box office weather report is sunny, with a chance of drunkenness.

Chéri continues the nostalgia for what British theater critic Kenneth Tynan coined 'Loamshireâ?� plays, middle-class dramas that challenge neither the establishment nor the depths of human passion. (This dominant genre was replaced in the '60s by British cinema's New Wave of social realism, aka the 'angry young manâ?� genre.)

It takes a prim-and-properness that few Americans can fathom to make an R-rated film about a hooker and her lover and not display heaps of sweat-covered skin, but that's the headspace that master Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen) inhabits in Chéri.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays semi-retired 1920s Parisian courtesan Lea de Lonval, a woman of high class in a low business content to live out her life sipping tea with other former ladies of the night, specifically her friend Madame Peloux (a hysterical Kathy Bates, whom Frears lets off the leash with relish).

Apparently on a whim, Lonval takes Peloux's young son as a lover. Chéri, as she pet-names him, is no angry young man; more like a petulant little boy, which works fine for Lonval, who makes no attempt to tame him.

After years in each other's arms, it is time for Chéri to take a wife, an arrangement that forces Lonval and Chéri apart. When neither one is able to move on, they commence a dance of jealousy that only hurts those around them.

But they do so nicely. It is hard to convey just how inoffensive (and undramatic) this 'dramaâ?� allows itself to remain. There are moments of Sirkian melodrama and hints of Frears' own Dangerous Liaisons'style scheming, but mostly Chéri is happy to chug along looking pretty.

Pfeiffer's glamour is still captivating, and the casting of Rolling Stones muse Anita Pallenberg as the operator of a sultry opium den is so perfectly juicy it practically merits an extra rating star on general principle.

But all the frilly hats, teasingly lit sex and delicious turns of phrases can't inject this adaptation of Colette's novel with enough drama to sustain its tight running time. Nor does it justify the absurdly epic score by Alexandre Desplat, who apparently did not get the memo that Americans are ready for fluff again; or so says the movie business.

comment

Tags