by Marko Domazet

Time for a history lesson. The concept of a cougar, my dear friends, is not an ideology new to man. Many an older woman, it would appear, are no strangers to delights of young, firm men. Unfortunately, most older women who do it today look like complete tramps. Fortunately, the cougar in the film I’m about to tell you everything about is a lot classier and hotter.

Picture it. Paris. Early 20th century. La Belle Epoque. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Lea the courtesan who starts having an affair with a young thing. Delish! The affair lasts for six years. Even more delicious! The hot young thing is forced to run off and marry some dull-as-dishwater virgin. High drama! Add to the mix the direction of Stephen Frears (be still my heart!) and you’d be within your rights to expect a masterpiece along the lines of Dangerous Liasons.

Alas, despite all its beauty and lush, Cheri falls rather flat. What gives? Michelle Pfeiffer certainly portrays the aging courtesan well and there isn’t a bad word that can be said about the costumes and the sets. The problem, rather unfortunately, lies in the two of the leading men. The first one, Rupert Friend does not have much going in the film apart from a good set of cheekbones. The character of Cheri is meant to be this slightly above-it-all, incredibly coy and intelligent-a-la-Oscar-Wilde-kind-of-dandy, yet all we see on screen is Friend pouting and being all gloomy.

Our other lead man (no, not Kathy Bates! I’m talking about the director Steven Frears), seems unable to make up his mind as to whether he wants Cheri to be a melodrama or a comedy. Yes, the two are usually intertwined in life as well as in art, but in this case the results are confusing. One moment we’re being lead through an array of pictures accompanied by a dry and witty voice over, and another our main Cougar is in so much pain, we think she’s about to die.

Cheri is a beautiful film and there’s no doubt that the individuals involved in it have worked to very high standards. Unfortunately, and sometimes I do think it’s a simple as that, Cheri misses that special spark. I say, whilst crying into my lace hanky about the film that could have been, wait for the DVD. There is a recession going on and we must chose our battles wisely. Sob.

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