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Chéri DVD Review

Cheri (2009) movie poster Chéri

Theatrical Release: June 26, 2009 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Stephen Frears / Writers: Christopher Hampton (screenplay), Colette (novels)

Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer (Léa de Lonval), Rupert Friend (Fred "Chéri" Peloux), Felicity Jones (Edmée), Nichola McAuliffe (Madame Aldonza), Anita Pallenberg (La Copine), Frances Tomelty (Rose), Harriet Walter (La Loupiote), Kathy Bates (Madame Charlotte Peloux), Iben Hjejle (Marie-Laure), Stephen Frears (Narrator - uncredited)

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Based on two 1920s books by French novelist Colette, Chéri tells the story of a torn turn-of-the-century romance between aristocrats. Léa (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a middle-aged courtesan approaching retirement, Fred (Rupert Friend) is a debaucherous young man of 19.
Acquainted since Fred's childhood, each has given the other a nickname -- hers is Nounoune; his is the more adhesive Chéri. The two have enough money and time to live comfortably on whims while keeping emotions at bay. Although a quarter of a century separates them in age, Léa and Fred decide to live together and soon, six years of sexual and domestic partnership have passed, with us seeing an ordinary morning or two of it.

The lovers' casual yet serious setup is threatened when Chéri's garrulous mother Charlotte (Kathy Bates) announces to Léa that an arranged marriage has been scheduled for her son and an 18-year-old debutante. With the wedding date fast approaching, Léa and Chéri both hold melancholy for the imminent end it will bring to their pleasurable shared existence. Then the ceremony itself arrives and the separated couple realizes just how much their arrangement meant.

Although she's sooo skinny as to not conform to the era's beauty ideals, Lea de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer) has done quite well for herself as a high-class courtesan. Holding onto the gate to appear casual, Chéri (Rupert Friend) is actually quite curious as to Lea's whereabouts.

Devastated, Léa takes off and looks for a handsome young man who can replace her memories of Chéri. Meanwhile, Chéri never gives his young bride Edmée (Felicity Jones) a chance, going through the motions of consummation and then disappearing in the hopes of finding his heart's one heartbroken love. Most of the film depicts how Léa and Chéri cope with their time apart. Ultimately, there is resolution.

Oh, the wonders that a period European setting can do for a movie. Everything about Chéri establishes it as an art film, one which is to be filled with sumptuous designs, proficient photography, romantic orchestration, and praiseworthy performances. But while it may look the part in marketing and carry the Miramax name in the US, Chéri definitely doesn't fit the bill as something deserving awards consideration or thoughtful analysis.

In fact, this is about as shallow as cinema gets. Were it set in the present-day, there would be nothing to disguise the story's thinness. We basically have a rich ex-prostitute cougar and a spoiled, immature, insensitive brat. If there's anything sincere to the connection they form, we don't get to see it, because the film and Colette's novels avoid the years together in favor of the affair's hazy end and aftermath. Sure, there are pretty postcards instead of text messages and emerald rings instead of tramp stamps, but one need only make such comparisons to see just how inane this is, no matter how popular its source texts once were.

Though retired, Chéri's mother Madame Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates), friend/rival courtesan of Lea, still has something of a dirty whorish mouth. The arranged marriage of Edmée (Felicity Jones) and Chéri (Rupert Friend) is largely a loveless one.

There isn't anything to divert our attention from the hollow core. Shadowy sex scenes, colorful costumes, and quaint narration (delivered sans credit by director Stephen Frears) neither titillate nor generate gravitas. The acting is unexceptional, especially in a genre that's routinely recognized.
That Pfeiffer and Friend emit no sparks isn't all due to poor interpretation or insufficient effort. We are never given any reason to care for the self-involved leads, nor wish for their happiness. A few uncharacteristically misplayed barbs by Kathy Bates don't create sympathy.

Chéri's failings surprise because the two people perhaps most responsible for them come to this production off of highly-acclaimed Best Picture nominees; writer Christopher Hampton from Atonement and director Stephen Frears from The Queen. The first time Hampton and Frears collaborated on a film with Pfeiffer was 1988's Dangerous Liaisons, which won three Oscars from seven nominations. There is no hope of this second Frears-Hampton-Pfeiffer period drama repeating any such achievements.

In one of the numerous blows to studio-distributed independent cinema, Disney recently announced plans to scale the Miramax Films division to three films a year. You can't help but place some of the blame on the poor performance of Chéri, whose earnings ($2.7 million domestically, $7.5 M worldwide) only seem reasonable until you see the film's $23 M budget estimate on IMDb. To avoid incurring more losses on this movie, Disney isn't even bothering with a high-definition release; Chéri arrives exclusively on DVD next Tuesday.

Buy Cheri on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled and Captioned
Release Date: October 20, 2009
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase
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Chéri appears in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen in a transfer that satisfactorily conveys the opulence of the "Belle Époque" setting. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack remains very front-oriented and basic.

Director Stephen Frears has a laugh at a comparison to a 1980s photograph of him and Michelle Pfeiffer working on "Dangerous Liaisons." Cheri and Lea serve up another 105 seconds of steam in this deleted scene. I'm not sure that the DVD's menu designers actually saw the film, but I don't blame them.


"The Making of Chéri" (8:49) takes a brisk look at production, briefly touching upon Colette, the cast and crew, and how set design and costumes reflect characters.
If you enjoyed the movie, you'll probably wish this was longer and much more thorough. I was okay with the whole brevity thing.

Next and last, two deleted scenes run all of two minutes together. The first is a short throwaway scene of Léa directing the help, the more substantial second finds her helping Chéri get dressed. There are no comments to explain the deletions.

Inserting the disc cues trailers for Everybody's Fine and The Proposal plus spots for Blu-ray and against smoking. The Sneak Peeks menu adds promos for 10 Things I Hate About You: 10th Anniversary Special Edition, Miramax Films, "Lost": The Complete Fifth Season, "Legend of the Seeker": The Complete First Season, and Old Dogs. A booklet promoting Blu-ray and a sheet holding a Miramax Insider sweepstakes code are found inside.

The main menu's mildly-animated painting doesn't seem to fit the film. Submenus maintain a similar look with additional score excerpts.

Lea (Michelle Pfeiffer) hides her old bones behind the hairless body of the lover half her age (Rupert Friend). Does this closing shot of Lea (Michelle Pfeiffer) looking at herself in the mirror speak volumes on aging, heartbreak, and the flight of beauty? Or is it a cop-out conclusion teamed with narration meant to disarm you before the end credits show up? You decide.


Chéri serves up period romance with little style and even less substance. Although the filmmakers have put together a competent drama, it's tough to find anything to enjoy about the shallow relationship at its core. Unusually light on bonus features, the DVD is worth a rental only if you're a sucker for the genre, the cast, or the writings of the controversial author of Gigi. Everyone else can take a pass.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy The Novels: Chéri and La Fin De Chéri by Colette

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Stephen Frears: The Queen | Starring Michelle Pfeiffer: Stardust | Featuring Rupert Friend: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Period Dramas: Brideshead RevisitedEnchanted AprilRevolutionary RoadThe Other Boleyn GirlCasanovaBecoming Jane
New: Whatever WorksSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Diamond Edition Blu-ray) • The Proposal (Deluxe Edition)
Miramax Films: Happy-Go-LuckyThe Diving Bell and the ButterflyVenusDoubtAdventureland
Love Knows No Age: The GraduateThe Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonDriving Lessons

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Reviewed October 14, 2009.

Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2009 Miramax Films, Bill Kenwright Pictures, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.