Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Chaperone

I don't recall seeing a preview for The Chaperone before it popped up on Kendall Square's schedule, but I must have; when I looked up the film while making a "Next Week" post, I distinctly felt that whoever made the preview had buried the lede by not making it clear that Haley Lu Richardson was playing Louise Brooks. It probably doesn't really matter in terms of the actual story, but that's a combination that gets my attention.

What I'm saying here is, I would like another movie or two with Haley Lu Richardson following Brooks's career, from Hollywood to Germany to maybe rediscovering herself as a writer. Not necessarily from the Downton Abbey people, but it's such a great matching of character and part that it would be a shame to just have her as the background to someone else's fictional story.

The Chaperone

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 April 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

The Chaperone is cheerier and more effervescent than it sometimes seems like it should be; it tells the story of a woman who finds happiness and otherwise makes a less-than-ideal situation better in small, pragmatic ways in a way that's faithful to its 1922 setting despite the modern instinct to want more confrontation and a sharper edge. This movie is pleasant and accommodating even when it seems like it maybe shouldn't be, but that's hardly a mark against it - it's a modestly delightful story that makes a virtue out of finding the best way to look at difficult situations.

It starts in Wichita, Kansas, with the aptly-named Norma Carlisle (Elizabeth McGovern) attending a charity event with her husband Alan (Campbell Scott). The first piece of entertainment is pianist Myra Brooks (Victoria Hill) playing while her teenage daughter Louise (Haley Lu Richardson) dances. Both are talented, with Louise accepted to study at a prestigious group in New York City, though her parents are reluctant to send her away without a chaperone - it's not hard to see that she has the potential to be more trouble than even the average 16-year-old. Norma volunteers, which seems unusually impulsive, but it turns out she's got her own reasons - she was born there, but adopted by midwestern farmers at the age of three, and is looking to track down her birth parents. The nuns at the "House for Friendless Girls" are not much help, but German handyman Joseph (Géza Röhrig) is taken with her and helps her sneak into the records room.

The filmmakers appear to take some liberties with Laura Moriarty's novel, which in turn likely takes some liberties with Louise Brooks's life; someone coming to this film on the promise of one of this decade's most interesting young actresses playing one of the silent era's should probably take note of the title. Screenwriter Julian Fellowes and director Michael Engler put enough of that in to that this part of the audience won't feel short-changed, but mostly they focus on Norma and her sort of coming-of-middle age story. Her name has been changed from "Cora" for the film, presumably to underline how she enters the film taking a lot for granted - about her home life, the good intentions of her neighbors, her own history. The story throws challenges to her orderly, proper life.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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