Directed by Stephen Frears
In Cheri, a nubile bride (Felicity Jones) cannot understand why her husband is so obsessed with a former lover, a middle-aged Parisian courtesan named Lea. Given that the pro is played by Michelle Pfeiffer the reason for the obsession is kind of obvious. The real mystery of Cheri is what either of these women sees in the sniveling manchild (Rupert Friend) around whom Stephen Frears’s tedious new costume drama revolves.
Both in subject matter and in quality, the Frears filmography is all over the place. For every bullseye (My Beautiful Laundrette, The Grifters), there’s a misfire to cancel it out (Mary Reilly, Hero). Reunited with a leading lady and the screenwriter (playwright Christopher Hampton) of one of his greatest successes, Dangerous Liaisons, Frears seems hellbent on defiling his own legacy. Whereas Liaisons made it pretty clear why Robespierre felt compelled to roll out the guillotine, the bourgeois Cheri revels in money, nihilism and ruling class prerogatives.
Frears, a period fetishist, conjures the Belle Epoque of Colette’s source novel with the gusto of a Park Avenue interior decorator. But he undermines his mis-en-scène by encouraging his American actresses to talk in stagey, pseudo-British accents. Kathy Bates, miscast as one of Pfeiffer’s cronies, must have resisted Frears’s direction, because many of her lines are noticeably dubbed. Then again, the movie’s theme — that capitalism and feminism go together like peanut butter and chocolate — is similarly phony. Pfeiffer’s upscale call girl may embody an emerging class of economically liberated women, but her complacency and comfort in a life of boundless luxury — handmaids included — is a far cry from subversive.
Opens June 26