Michelle Pfeiffer certainly picked an opportune time to age gracefully into her fifties. With our cultural fixation on cougars (hopefully) reaching its peak, her role in Chéri, as a retired 1920’s Parisian courtesan besotted by a 19-year-old boy, comes as no surprise. Based on a novel of the same name by Colette, the film traipses along with Lea (Pfeiffer) as she reflect on a bygone era where French courtesans were famed for the amount of money they could extract from their regal clients. Joining her as a prostie past her prime -- well, substantially more past her prime -- is the exquisite Kathy Bates (Madame Peloux), who’s recalcitrant son, Chéri (played by a handsome newcomer, Rupert Friend), has had more than his fill of debauchery in his teen years. Rather suddenly, Chéri shacks up with Lea for six years. And just as quickly, the relationship -- perhaps, mutually, their longest spell of fidelity -- is interrupted by Madame Peloux, who arranges a marriage between her son and a young girl whose mother is also living off her hooker wealth.
The May-December relationship in Chéri is not as alluring as the decadence with which our wry courtesans live. Watching sassy, rich, older women drink scotch and trade passive aggressive quips with one another is downright fun. The love story -- which fleshes out a rather serious deliberation on aging and commitment -- offsets the tastier bits of comedy and décor. But Pfeiffer and Friend are dynamic enough onscreen (and, collectively, have startlingly high enough cheekbones) to keep any viewer satiated. The film, then, is a scrumptious, yet unremarkable addition to the period drama genre.
-- MIKE BERLIN
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