Synopsis: It is turn of the century in Belle Epoque Paris and a scandalous romp is underfoot. The sensational tale begins as the ravishing Lea (Michelle Pfeiffer) contemplates retirement from her renowned stature as Paris’s most envied seductress to the rich and famous. Her plans are cut short when she is approached by a former courtesan and arch rival, the barb-throwing gossip Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates), who encourages Lea to teach her disaffected 19 year-old son - a bon vivant nicknamed “Cheri” (Rupert Friend) - a thing or two about women. The resulting escapades involve power struggles over sex, money, age and society - and, unexpectedly, love itself - as a boy who refuses to grow up collides with a woman who realizes she cannot stay young forever. [Synopsis courtesy of Miramax]
Round-up: "There’s no doubt that Pfeiffer is brilliantly cast as this worn-down yet still vital woman, as her face, despite some unignorable tightness about the cheekbones, is beginning to show its age; her impeccable, carved beauty remains, yet in a stricter, more severe, perhaps even more divine tone," obse... rves Michael Koresky in his review for indieWIRE. Despite Pfeiffer's best efforts, however, he, like most reviewers, have noted major flaws with the film. "Basically," Koresky goes on to say, "Frears seems to not have much of a handle on the material—is the film farce (as early ribaldry and much randy bedding, accompanied by thrown platters of oysters and prawns, portends) or a slow-burning tale of doomed romance, in which the two lovers, with their pale skin and rigid countenances, look like two marble statues mating?... If the film had felt like it earned this final outpouring of emotion, and if we felt like we got to know the character’s inner life and how she defines herself other than as just a young man’s lover, then Pfeiffer’s performance would have registered as more than just a poignant outline." The sense that Pfeiffer's talent is wasted is echoed by the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw who, in his one-star review of the film, writes "Michelle Pfeiffer deserved the finest vehicle for her comeback. This is the film-equivalent of a knackered Trabant with four bald tyres and a farting exhaust... Sitting through this stuffy and over-furnished film is like being slowly deprived of oxygen." Nearly as harsh is Wally Hammond's Time Out review in which he calls it on of Frear's "most dull, airless and conventional films" and writes that "If Pfeiffer is occasionally touching – hauling back her emotions when caught off-guard – then Friend, doing a passable impression of Terence Stamp in his beauteous youth, is too passive an object to be truly moving." New York Magazine's David Edelstein also points to Friend's performance as a large part of the reason the film doesn't work. "Michelle Pfeiffer is brittle in a way that's not especially French, but she's poignant and very lovely," he writes. "Rupert Friend, on the other hand, is difficult to warm up to, especially with his features hidden behind all that hair. It's not a good sign when you have to take the movie's word for it that the lovers at its center are really, really into each other."