Michelle Pfeiffer's on the Prowl in Chéri


Media talking points for the 1920s period romance Chéri cluster around how "brave" Michelle Pfeiffer's performance is. The aging actress plays an aging whore who has a six-year relationship with a man 30 years her junior. As she seduces her young beau, Pfeiffer is drop-dead gorgeous one moment, draped in the necessarily flattering costumes of a high-end French whore, and the next? The camera pries a little, gets a little too close, and suddenly signs of Pfeiffer's age jump into relief: Her eyelids are crepe-y. Her neck sags. Her arm wattles quiver.

Her character's relationship with pretty-boy youngster Chéri (Rupert Friend), the fatherless son of a fellow prostitute, is meant to be the grand, doomed passion of both their lives. Yet it unfolds as a labored procession of middle-school melodrama and door-slamming theatrics, orchestrated in part by Chéri's mother (a bloaty, toad-like Kathy Bates). Even Pfeiffer's pillow talk is arch and affected, and a listless Rupert Friend has nothing to recommend him but a mop of curly hair and a fetching pout.

Despite its ostensible bravery, Chéri is, at its heart, a cautionary tale—a catalogue of the ways in which women can fail. The film teems with bad mothers, frigid wives, and overripe "working girls"—here, even the temporary pleasures offered by a young lover won't prevent an aging courtesan from getting just what the world thinks she deserves.

Rated R · 100 min. · 2009
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Director: Stephen Frears
Writer: Colette and Christopher Hampton
Producer: Andras Hamori
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates, Rupert Friend, Felicity Jones, Frances Tomelty, Anita Pallenberg, Harriet Walter, Iben Hjejle, Toby Kebbell and Rollo Weeks


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