Michelle Pfeiffer, still as gorgeous as ever, comes to terms with the ageing process in this costume drama that marks the reteaming after 20 years with her Dangerous Liaisons collaborators, director Frears and screenwriter Hampton. Unfortunately this new movie lacks the former's edge and bite.
Pfieffer plays a rich pre-war courtesan who takes young buck Friend, the son of her good friend (Bates), under her wing to educate him in the ways of love. After six years together, though, they have become comfortably attached to one another despite the sharp disparity in their ages. Bates then throws a spanner in the works by announcing that he is to marry a young lady (Jones) in the hope of siring children, so that she can then become a happy grandparent. This obviously puts a severe strain on the relationship between the ageing courtesan and her young swain, and it's through her eyes that we see her trying to adjust to her advancing years and mature way of life.
Pfeiffer gives an impeccable performance – sly, sophisticated, playful, jealous, angry, caring – the subtle shadings exquisitely rendered, and Friend is ideally cast as the overconfident kid whose feelings get the better of him. Bates too contributes a nice line in delicious one-upmanship, relishing her machiavellian manipulations. Director Frears maintains a light airy tone with the proceedings but the script is never as sharp as it should be. After a while one grows tired of the characters' posturings and the plot begins to lose steam. One can never sympathise with them so their company grows less agreeable as the story progresses.
It's immaculately presented – costumes and production design are all of a tall order – but the lack of a satisfying climax disappoints. One starts the film expecting a witty banquet but leaves with mere morsels of undercooked trifles. It's a minor effort from big talents – not bad to be sure, but a considerable letdown nonetheless. Shame.