Sunday, 29 November 2009


Icon Home Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

In The First Wives Club (1996) Goldie Hawn's ageing actress tells her plastic surgeon there are only three roles for women in Hollywood: babe, district attorney and Driving Miss Daisy. It's a truism and a sexist double standard: while men may age gracefully women are expected to remain eternally youthful. The only character lines studios want to hear about in relation to their leading ladies better be in the script.

At 50, Michelle Pfeiffer looks great. I don't know if she's had work done but regardless, her beauty hasn't helped her secure a meaty leading role in the last few years. It can't help when your main rival for roles is Meryl Streep, although I'm not sure we would have bought Pfeiffer in a nun's habit (Doubt, 2008), but following on from Hairspray (2007), Mamma Mia! may have worked.

In Cheri Pfeiffer plays Lea de Lonval, a newly-retired courtesan who, because of said looks, we can readily believe has procured such an income to enjoy a comfortable retirement in the belle epoque of early 20th century Europe. It is when she agrees to take Cheri (Rupert Friend), son of longtime friend, and as a fellow former courtesan one suspects rival, Madame Peloux (a deliciously catty Kathy Bates) under her wings that her perfect life comes unstuck.

Having spent her life trading on her body but not her heart, Lea makes the mistake of falling in love; not just with a man but a much younger one. Of course, as the son of courtesan, Cheri is expected to marry money to ensure his own future.

While the film's costumes and European locations look wonderful, Stephen Frears, who first directed Pfeiffer in Dangerous Liaisons in 1988, and his leading lady fail to invest the story with any real passion. Not that Cheri, who comes across as little more than a spoilt child, deserves devoted suffering but rather a good spanking.

Still, fans of costume dramas, doomed love and, yes, Michelle Pfeiffer will find much to enjoy here. Pfeiffer herself will have to continue looking for that meaty role, perhaps as a district attorney since her Miss Daisy days still seem to be much further down the road.

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