NPR last week had a story on Leonard Maltin’s new book about great movies that were marketed poorly or where people simply stayed away in droves. It’s called 151 Best Movies You've Never Seen. One of the films he mentions is The Weather Man with Nicholas Cage. I saw it and I agree with him. It’s great.
This weekend, my wife and I went to Blockbuster. Yep, there are still people who actually step into their car and go to the video store to look for movies. Not having Maltin’s book, I marched to the football stadium-sized back wall where I sorted through hundreds of lame new releases such as Samurai School, Dance Flick, Oh! My Zombie Mermaid. Like a zombie mermaid desperate for air, I was seeking the really great movie that I never heard of and rarely find.
My wife showed me the cover of a movie I never heard of, Cheri, with Michelle Pfeiffer. A chick flick, clearly. “Sure,” I said, knowing that chick flicks sometimes have benefits afterwards. Cheri, why not?
The story starts in Paris a few years before World War I, focusing on a rich courtesan, Lea (Pfeiffer), basically retired, who agrees to take in the son of her friend and rival, Charlotte (Kathy Bates). The son, Cheri (Rupert Friend), in his early twenties, has had an easy but isolated life with no direction, and shortly he and Lea are living and sleeping together. What was supposed to be a short affair goes on for six years because the two get along so well. As Rocky Balboa once said of his love, Adrienne, they fill in each other’s gaps. In this case, there’s at least a twenty-five year gap in age.
When Charlotte finds her son a wife, Edmee (Felicity Jones), the daughter of another courtesan, everyone agrees to it. Lea and Cheri agree that they were just hanging around until something better came around. The problem is when Cheri marries Edmee, both Cheri and Lea look lost, unwilling to admit they had something great, and Edmee doesn’t understand why her husband isn’t happy.
Rupert’s Cheri, passive, good-natured, and at times naïve, had found purpose with Lea, and his personality and look tugged at me, seemingly familiar. I realized Rupert Friend was Edward Scissorhands without the scissors. In fact, Friend looks a lot like Johnny Depp. The film, directed by Stephen Frears based on a Christopher Hampton script, is incredibly visual at times a la Tim Burton. It also has the subtle connections to character that Burton pulls off time and again.
I found Lea and Cheri’s relationship, dissolution, and what comes next involving. The film, based on a novel by Colette, snuck up on me, and the ending is memorable. The cast and creators are at the top of their form.
While Cheri wasn’t around to make Maltin’s book, it could easily make #152 for him. When the cheap samurai and zombie movies have you disparage the state of movie art, go for Colette’s tale.
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