Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Elizabeth McGovern shines in Michael Engler/Julian Fellowes' PBS/Masterpiece movie, THE CHAPERONE

If you're looking for a pleasant, beautifully produced, alternately funny and a little bit dramatic piece of nostalgic fluff that features a real-life famous person as one of its characters, you could hardly do better than THE CHAPERONE. This production of PBS Disitribtution/Master-piece Films -- with all of the pluses and minuses connected to that long-running collaboration -- is impeccable in its production design and decor, well-written and directed, and features a crack cast that nicely delivers (with one exception) exactly what is needed.

As directed by Michael Engler, shown at left, with a screenplay by Julian Fellowes -- both of whom, particularly the latter, were responsible for much of the success of Downton Abbey -- and starring DA's popular Elizabeth McGovern (below, right) in the title role here (Ms McGovern also acted as one of the film's producers: She clearly knows a good role when she sees one), The Chaperone goes down as easily, and with the intended result, as a glass of cold bubbly in very warm weather.

The story is all about the young days of famous silent film star Louise Brooks and how,  in order to go to New York to attend the also famous dance academy, Denishawn, run by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, the under-age Brooks must have a chaperone to accompany her. Enter Ms McGovern in the pivotal role.

The relationship between Louise (played by Haley Lu Richardson, below, center) and her chaperone, Norma, initially wary and near-unfriendly, soon turns warmer and of course both women grow in the course of their time spent together. No surprise there. And not much either, concerning the various sub-plots on view:

Norma and her hubby (Campbell Scott) have marital troubles; Louise gets involved with various young men (above) as she progresses with her dancing; Norma wants to learn the identity of the birth mother who abandoned her as a child; and eventually Norma, too, gets involved with someone -- the handyman (Géza Röhrig, at right, two photos above), at the Catholic nunnery/orphanage where she stayed as a child.

All these strands eventually reach a relatively happy conclusion, just enough to leave us satisfied and sated. There's little depth here -- just a good story, nicely told. McGovern is simply terrific, however, showing us not just the uptight, mid-western woman trying to fit into her own (and everyone's else's) idea of what's right but, as she confronts her various situations and begins to loosen, she hits precisely the right mark again and again.

The one disappointment turns out to be Ms Richardson. I've admired this actress in literally every role I've so far seen her -- from The Bronze to Columbus -- but she simply cannot rise to the occasion and amazement that was Louise Brooks. The filmmakers seem to understand this because they keep insisting, over and again (via the words of the Ted Shawn character), how amazingly gifted she is. Yet neither her dancing, appearance or performance bears this out. Richardson's attractive and has plenty of energy and talent. But the darkness, mystery and magic of the character are missing. You can't imagine this girl ever becoming our Miss Brooks.

That said, the movie's still a lot of fun, and the finale -- together with where we find Norma, her husband and their respective mates -- is handled with tact, delight and subtlety. From PBS Distribution and Masterpiece Films and running 103 minutes, The Chaperone, after opening last month in New York City, has expanded weekly into theaters across the county. Here in South Florida, it opens this Friday, April 12, and will play Fort Lauderdale at The Classic Gateway Theatre and in Palm Beach County at the Living Room Theaters of Boca Raton and the Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth.  Wherever you live across the USA, click here, and then click on THEATERS in the task bar at top, to find one near you.

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