Written by Pollo Misterioso
Period pieces are charming because they create a world that the audience is unfamiliar to. The costumes and the customs that are so foreign to our time become a wonderful setting that is based in reality. The film Cheri is a period film set in the 1900s that desperately tries to be compelling but fails to capture the basic drama between the characters while trying too hard.
Cheri is based on the novel of the same title by French author, Colette. She is most known for her novel Gigi but this one was written earlier, which is about a relationship of a man, Cheri, and an older woman Lea de Lonval who are separated by an arranged marriage.
Michelle Pfeiffer plays Lea, a famous courtesan that is worried about her age and what she will do because of it. Cheri (Rupert Friend) is a rambunctious young man that knows nothing of women or what he wants. His mother, Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates), sets his up with Lea so that she can take care of him. They live together for six years, until he is arranged to marry a fellow courtesan’s daughter for a large amount of money. When Lea and Cheri separate, they realize how much they truly loved one another, but unfortunately for them, they cannot be together.
The film is supposed to capture the subtleties of relationships and the fear of fading youth. But both of the lead characters are written so poorly that their relationship seems fake and desperate. Cheri is annoying and without any likable qualities, he is always complaining and unjustly rude—perhaps he is to seem young and frivolous. Even when he confesses a deeper love for Lea, it is simulated and novice. On the other hand, Pfeiffer gives a nice ferocity to Lea, making her more than just a beautiful woman, but someone that is commanding. Unfortunately, her character is not the main focus of the film, leaving her to seem very two-dimensional.
There is a narrator that fills in the gaps in the film. This all-knowing voice keeps the viewer up to date, but allows for major content of the film to be unseen. We are just told that Lea and Cheri have been together for six years, never really seeing how they develop as a couple. Their whole relationship becomes awkward and unbelievable because the audience never sees how they fall in love. Because of the narration, there is no sense of time and the passing of years within the film. The only reference to the time span of the film is in Lea’s constant outcries about her age and fading looks.
Cheri is supported by its beautiful set design. The costumes are gorgeous, a statement to the emotional status of each character. The sets and the locations give a tangible sense of the time and place that the characters inhabit. But Cheri cannot just look good to be good.
The problems between the characters are subtle. Lea struggles with loving a young man while aging and Cheri is naïve and without any direction. They love each other, but they find out too late. The audience has a much bigger problem, being that they aren’t given enough time with the characters. Always presented with more facts, the story never gets to the themes of Colette’s work. Much like Lea’s fascination with looks, on the outside Cheri seems like it could be a good film, but when you take a closer look there is nothing there.
There are two bonus features included on the DVD. Take a look at the deleted scenes. One of the scenes deleted could almost be considered a necessary part of the film that was cut. There is also a “Making Of Cheri” featurette with comments from the director, producer, writer and cast that is very interesting.