In a nutshell: Coco Chanel is a European-made television production about the life and love of the famed fashion designer — although I’m sure that was fairly evident given the title of the movie. The top-billed star here, Shirley MacLaine, gets more credit than she deserves for playing the elder version of Coco, who relates the story of her past to her family and friends in the present day of the 1950s. For most of the teleplay’s 139-minute runtime, the part of Coco is played by younger European actress Barbora Bobulova. The story goes from Chanel and her sister starting out with nothing (after their father left) and ends with the fashion icon’s “second coming” in the years following World War II.
Unfortunately, chunks of the story seem to be missing. Such as the important parts of Coco‘s life (e.g. her history as a fashion designer!). The made-for starts out well enough, giving a lot of character development, and conveying the story to us all just fine — and then, the movie just seems to say “OK, we filled our time quota — that’s a wrap, everyone” and ends. Honestly, the whole thing comes off like a rushed Lifetime special. Blah.
Maybe Shirley MacLaine’s salary was too large to keep the production going. Hell, I don’t know. MacLaine’s part is rather limited, but she still somehow manages to overact without doing much. Maybe she is just channeling the spirit of the late Coco Chanel herself, but Bobulova manages to be far more effective without being overly dramatic. Occasionally appearing alongside MacLaine in the “modern day” footage is the great Malcolm McDowell (who was probably on set for an entire day of shooting). During the flashback footage, we are treated to French actor Olivier Sitruk as Coco’s one and only love, Boy Capel.
Screen Media is releasing Coco Chanel on DVD in an anamorphic widescreen format. The video presentation looks more than adequate (especially for a Euro TV production), and the 5.1 English sound comes through just fine — even if most of the movie is dubbed. Yes, it’s true: a majority of the Euro actors do not speak the King’s good English, and so their voices have been replaced. Truthfully, Coco Chanel has the best dubbing job I’ve heard in a while. There’s a fine art to such a process, and few get it right these days (just watch any English dub of a modern Asian film for proof).
The only extra here is a behind the scenes special that was made for Italian TV. Non-removable English subtitles have been burned in, should you want to bother with the DVD.
Coco Chanel is most certainly not the best bio film ever made. It starts out okay, but then withers and dies sometime thereafter. MacLaine is unwatchable and McDowell just looks like he was there picking up a paycheck. If anything, it’s actress Barbora Bobulova that makes the movie even remotely interesting: she’s a fine actress who doesn’t have to rely on her sex appeal to make you notice her (although she has sex appeal, too!). Too bad she didn’t get assigned to a better biopic project.