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DVD Review: Chéri

Nov. 12 2009, Published 9:10 a.m. ET

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Cougars aren’t hard to miss. Sipping top-shelf martinis at the bars, strutting in new Manolos, and joy-riding in shiny BMWs: their pursuit of virile, young prey is often overt. With shows like ABC’s Cougar Town and the summer’s first national cougar convention, these lusty ladies have officially come into their own, emerging from their lairs to find fresh meat that’s guaranteed to be AARP-card-free.

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At the risk of spoiling all the fun, such intrepid ladies (not to mention their unwitting cubs), should take a look at Chéri, which recently arrived ton DVD. In this little gem from Stephen Frears (The Queen), a courtesan on the brink of retirement breaks all the rules when she falls in love with a sexy, teen socialite and suffers the consequences. Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Léa de Lonval, Paris’s most famous artist of amour who has seduced kings and romanced royalty, amassing a great amount of wealth but never allowing herself to love. Dreamy Rupert Friend (also known as Keira Knightley’s BF) plays Chéri, the self-involved, 19-year-old son of Léa’s courtesan frenemy Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates).

Paris starts burning up when the crafty Charlotte suggests Léa take Chéri under her wing -- so to speak -- and the two become inseparable for six years of playful bliss. Adorned with pearls and bound by passion (and, perhaps, co-dependency), the unlikely couple exist in their own luxurious universe, unfettered by convention and uninterrupted by fears of the future. That is, until -- quelle horreur! -- mommy arranges to marry off her only son, now 25, to the daughter of another classy courtesan.

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Suddenly ripped apart, our star-crossed pair discover that the past half-dozen years have been more than just a roll in the boudoir. As Léa and Chéri lick their respective wounds, they eventually face a decision that forces them to contemplate youth, love, and growing up -- issues any modern cougar could relate to. Yet despite the heavy matters, Chéri is light-hearted, with subtle comedy that flits through the gardens and gently nudges its way into weighty moments. Plus, the copious, shirtless scenes with a pouting Friend are compelling enough: It’s not difficult to imagine how a savvy, beautiful woman can let go of business for a while to simply get busy.

In Frears’s hands, Chéri ‘s swirling desires and realities are deftly draped on disciplined dialogue that doesn’t take itself too seriously. His all-star cast, of course, doesn’t hurt either. Pfeiffer is perfect as a fading star who’s adult enough to take care of two people, but human enough to suffer the heartbreak of one. In this wry tale of lovers in an era of excess, it’s ultimately restraint that makes it a well-made, saucy little romp.

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