Lea (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a retired courtesan who develops a meandering relationship with "the exquisitely handsome and cheeky" Chéri (Rupert Friend), the son of a former colleague and competitor, Mme Peloux (Kathy Bates).
The two lived together for six years in a casual style at Lea's homes, and enjoy a relaxed life style that epitomises one aspect of the Fin-de-Siècle France, with all the conversation expected of a couple of many years. Chéri later becomes married to Edmée, a girl of barely eighteen, whom he finds awkward and unfulfilling, and returns to Lea to rekindle their relationship.
Chéri is the incarnation of the spirit of the Belle Epoque, and his life and death follow that of his age. Friend is very well suited to play the title-rôle, and delivers an admirable performance with plenty of playfulness tinted by the barely visible, but nevertheless present, shade of true love, beyond the 'love' of the Fin-de-Siècle.
Noteworthy scenes are those involving Lea and Mme Peloux, with other retired courtesans, in which Pfeiffer's interesting use of facial expressions and the silly banter, particularly killer one-liners, depict the intrinsic comedy of the Belle Epoque, which only brings into relief its underlying tragedy.
Chéri is a subversion of the romantic comedy, and must be critiqued as such; it should be placed in a category nearer to films like the Princess Bride than traditional films depicting the Belle Epoque. Indeed, that it is in English rather than French alone reveals its nature, and it has successfully satirised the manners of an historical era into which previous films of its kind have scarcely ventured. The film reflects the temperament of the eponymous character, and of the Belle Epoque, telling a truly tragic story (with an appropriately tragic (and the sole acceptable) ending) with the techniques of comedy; depicting playfully a nation's path to destruction, the contrast of moods creating an irresistible film which, I argue, is not as devoid of content as some would have it.
Shortcomings of script and plot notwithstanding, the mixture of an exquisitely ornate setting, beautiful characters, and well-placed comic relief has created a thoroughly enjoyable and deliciously sensual piece.
This was such an unusual movie, at first the narrative gave me the impression that it would be a little light-hearted, that the story would be a bit more whimsical, a dramady; but as good as the movie proved to be, the conclusion was a bit more depressing than I had expected. The story, like I mentioned, was good and the whole courtesan angle was interesting. The film had a good ensemble but I felt some of the actors seemed a bit out of place, most notably the talented Kathy Bates. Even though she is quite a credible actress; I felt she was miscast and wasn't a good fit for the part. Michelle Pfeiffer was brilliant as usual and played the ethereal Lea de Lonval perfectly. The unbelievably gorgeous Rupert Friend was just too pretty to be true, it was distracting because I kept wondering if his character actually secretly longed to be a woman (especially when he was wearing Lea's pearl necklace) because he was just too damn, distractingly beautiful. Their love-affair was epic but inevitably doomed from the beginning and ended equally as tragically as Romeo & Juliet's; which was truly quite sad.
The movie talks about love and the relevance of age in it. The ambiguity of the decision-making is shown well.