Posted by schnolis on July 15th, 2009 filed in Reviews

CheriI’m not a believer in the idealized romantic notion that everyone has one perfect love. People (and characters in films) that believe this to be true are simply selling themselves short. It’s a kind of emotional laziness that isn’t backed by everyday, real world evidence. Plenty of people love and love again, whether after divorce or death, and make the best of it. We love all our children, and parents, and some friends, and our lives are richer for it. Cheri makes this precept central to its story, which restricts my ability to empathize or understand it.

Cheri (Rupert Friend) is a young man not quite 20 years of age. He was born to a very successful prostitute., Madme Peloux (Kathy Bates). He was a relatively normal child but into adulthood became more confused and angry. Ultimately he is eventually taken in by Lea de Lonval (Michell Pfeiffer), also a prostitute, and many years older. The women have done very for themselves, but are social outcasts in an era and culture where it mattered more. Cheri is drawn to Lea’s kindness, and the two become romantically involved despite the difference in age. She takes care of him, trying to draw him out of his petulent shell while instructing him on societal ways. But when Madame Peloux arranges a marriage with (you guessed it) another prostitute’s daughter, the six year arrangement with Lea must come to an end. This sends Cheri and Lea into depressive states, though neither is willing to refuse the arrangement. They don’t acknowledge to themselves or each other the love they feel connecting them; instead they perfunctorily live their livers, all the while harboring desires to be back with their old lover.

One frustrating fault with this film is the way information is presented. The realizations aren’t shown to us by the actions of characters themselves. We’re instructed via a third-party audio overdub of the rudimentary foundations of the culture, and in the end of Cheri’s ultimate despair and suicide. It never fails to astonish me that film makers can’t be bothered to show us viewers a story and allow us to come to our own conclusions. We’re capable of understanding the complexities of love and despair without direct explanation, and deducing what led to actions the performers made. I found myself asking why I should care about any of them? The ridiculously overvalued Victorian sensibilities coupled with the faulty one-true love premise combined in Cheri for an exasperated experience, quite distant from any form of enjoyment.

What I liked: Some of the dialog was interesting, and the costumes extravagant. The performances of Michelle Pfeiffer and Rupert Friend were fine by themselves, but the deplorable characters and the uninteresting story diminished any appreciation. It’s always amazing to see the incredible castles and estates the excessively wealthy people in the world inhabit.

What I disliked: The overdubbed narration was annoying. There was some information provided about the history of courtesans and their rise in popularity in history, but was otherwise strange in so far as it appeared early in the film but disappeared until the very end. I got the impression it was added late to the mix to explain certain points that failed to get adequate descriptions in the film. The characters weren’t likable, and not because of their being prostitutes. I wanted to like the characters, but how could I when they never acted worthy of care?

Rating: 3 of 10

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