Anemic Adaptation of Chéri Could Have Put Colette to Sleep


‘For the first time in my life, I felt morally certain of having written a novel for which I need neither blush nor doubt,” Colette said of Chéri, her 1920 novel of the Belle Époque Parisian demimonde. Stephen Frears’s anemic adaptation, written by Christopher Hampton (who also folds in 1926’s The Last of Chéri), would most likely make the author nod off or plug her ears. Chéri, the most celebrated of Colette’s male characters, is a louche 19-year-old millionaire played by Rupert Friend, acting opposite Michelle Pfeiffer as Lea, a courtesan d’un certain âge who has a six-year affair with the insolent androgyne until he’s married off. Frears and Hampton’s missteps begin immediately, with the director providing pinched narration as he recounts, over so many cartes de visite, the histories of other famous ladies who made a handsome living on their backs. It’s the first of innumerable auditory assaults, continuing with Alexandre Desplat’s frantic score and the clash of English and American accents (especially puzzling in the scenes with Brit Friend and Kathy Bates as his retired-prostie mother). Pfeiffer, uncertain how to convey the older, wiser erotomane, resorts to sounding like Samantha Jones auditioning for Masterpiece Theater, her décolletage the only part of this movie getting any air.