Michelle Pfeiffer miscast in Cheri



14a5/1246465479-cheri18.jpg After devouring Colette’s 1920 Chéri, André Gide sent the authoress a breathless note. “What intelligence, what mastery, what understanding of those least admitted secrets of the flesh!” Proust was also a fan. If you have not read the novel or its sequel, The Last of Chéri, and saw only the new Stephen Frears adaptation, which opens today at the Cedar Lee Theatre, you might wonder what the fuss was about. The film is exquisitely produced, like all of Frears’ films (The Queen, Dirty Pretty Things), but the novel has lost much of its spirit and charm in the translation. Set in 1912 Paris, Chéri is the story of Léa de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer), a retired courtesan who takes up with beautiful, spoiled playboy Fred (Rupert Friend), 19, nicknamed “Chéri” by Léa, whom he calls “Nounoune.” Their affair lasts six years, until Chéri’s mother, mercenary ex-courtesan Madame Peloux (heartily played by Kathy Bates), marries him off to the wealthy young Edmée (Felicity Jones). Both Léa, who worries about her fading beauty, and Chéri, who cares little for anyone but himself, realize too late that theirs was a genuine, if impossible, love. (Interestingly, Colette, at 42, later seduced her 16-year-old stepson, a case of life imitating art.) The movie’s Belle Epoque settings are lovely: art nouveau furnishings and ravishing costumes, enhanced by Darius Khondji’s fine cinematography. But it’s hard to look past the casting of Pfeiffer, possibly the last actress you would think of for a French courtesan. Pfeiffer emotes valiantly, but her slender California beauty and disturbingly unlined forehead do not suggest a voluptuous, aging concubine, or a Frenchwoman of any kind (though Frears also cast her as one in Dangerous Liaisons). Friend, on the other hand, is perfectly cast as the narcissistic Chéri. Screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons, Atonement) preserves much of the book’s arch dialogue and adds a healthy dose of eroticism, but without the benefit of Colette’s ironic narration, the story seems trivial and unsympathetic. The movie, while aesthetically charming, doesn’t suggest why this story is worth telling, much less why Colette said she had “never written anything as moral.” Cedar Lee Theatre. ** 1/2

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at news@clevescene.com.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.