Putting aside her fragrant memoirs, Cheri and The Last of Cheri are probably Colette’s finest achievement as a writer; they lucidly express her faith in materialism as well as her convincing belief that sensuality is the highest of all human pursuits. These two novels about an aging courtesan and her devouring passion for a young pretty boy are many things, but most of all they are French to their core, and the rude English narration that begins Stephen Frears’s adaptation of Cheri strikes a jarring note right from the start. The Belle Epoque clothes look as luscious as pastries and the décor is properly sumptuous, but the scenes are paced in such a jerky way that the film seems like it was slapped together too quickly. In her first major film role in what feels like a very long time, Michelle Pfeiffer gives an uneven performance as Lea de Lonval, a part once earmarked for Jessica Lange, who has a producing credit on this film. At her worst, when she’s trying to be calculating, Pfeiffer makes her face into a weird mask of hauteur and reads her lines as if she were in a high school play, yet there are moments toward the end when she reaches a ravaged kind of emotion that recalls her best work from the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Unfortunately, she has to contend with a brutally miscast Kathy Bates, who overacts all over the place as a retired adventuress and mother to Lea’s beloved Cheri (Rupert Friend). Colette’s ruthless sensibility gets lost in what amounts to just another costume melodrama, and though she was never averse to crass commercialism when she was selling her books, surely she would be amused that this film version of Cheri is being sold as a kind of “cougar with her boy toy” romp. Cheri and Last of Cheri pay serious tribute to worldly pleasures as a sort of “fuck you” to death and evil and wrinkles on the brow, but you won’t feel even an instant of that kind of steel in this graceless movie.
- Stephen Frears
- Christopher Hampton
- Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Friend, Kathy Bates, Anita Pallenberg
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider making a contribution.
You can also make a monthly donation via Patreon.