Rupert Friend inhabits Chéri's egocentric skin with a superior air that is at times playful and other times cruel.  Sarcasm is the only language he knows, whether intending to flirt or hurt.  It's the wall he constantly retreats behind.  Kathy Bates gives a delicious turn as Chéri's mother and Lea's adversary, both in passive-aggressive theatrical style.  She chews the scenery, but appropriately so.

Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons) is brilliantly coy as he presents temptation in lighthearted fashion, but his avoidance of moralizing for much of the film is actually a means to an end.  The allure of lust and passion is honest, and excitement goes part-and-parcel with forbidden fruit. Yes, Frears presents the sexuality in appealing fashion; yes, the complications are played more as romantic tragedy than a just comeuppance. 

But by making us emotionally complicit in the attraction and sympathetic to Lea's heartbreak, Frears rightly forces us to implicate ourselves in its cost.  It would be far too easy to judge these characters from the outset; not doing so helps to cogently remind us all that we are as susceptible to temptation as anyone, and we are equally bound to its effects.

It's ironic, but we feel the weight of immorality only after denying its existence for too long.  Yes, deep down, we know what we're doing is wrong, but we're too caught up in the thrill to acknowledge what our conscience gently counsels.  That's the tone Frears captures here.  When the characters indulge, the film indulges along with them.  When they despair, the film despairs with them.  Yet where many films romanticize the reckoning, Chéri offers no grace. 

Its morality only emerges at the very end in one quiet gut punch of a final moment.  We feel it—not because we've been preached to all along, but because it's the only direct moral swing the film takes, and it's timed perfectly.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  Drinking, smoking.  Brief cocaine use.
  • Language/Profanity:  No blatant contemporary profanity, but suggestive dialogue and flirtations do enter conversation.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  A few old pictures/drawings of female nudity seen in the film's opening, but fairly stilted in the style of the time.  Sex scenes occasionally occur throughout.  Initially they are brief, but each subsequent one is a bit more graphic than the last, both in duration as well as content.  No frontal nudity is seen, but bare backsides are exposed.  People lie together naked, and the actions in a few scenes are explicit in motion and expression even if not visually pornographic.
  • Violence/Other:  An act of brutal violence is referenced near the end, but not seen. 

 
Jeffrey Huston is a film director, writer and producer at Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Okla.  He is also cohost of "Steelehouse Podcast," along with Steelehouse Executive Creative Mark Steele, where each week they discuss God in pop culture. 

To listen to the weekly podcast, please visit www.steelehouse.com or click here.  You can also subscribe to "Steelehouse Podcast" through iTunes.