In Brief: You won’t need a chaperone to see The Chaperone. Great performances in a very good film.
Once in awhile someone does a small movie that you hope gets wider release. The Chaperone is one of them. This PBS produced period piece is an exceptional movie and one that deserves a shot at being seen by more people.
The Chaperone is a biopic of sorts. Haley Lu Richardson plays real life actress and dancer Louise Brooks. Her movie star star flamed bright and quickly dimmed in the 1920s and 1930s. According to this biopic based on Laura Morarity’s novel, the lady was a bit of a party animal and that led to her downfall.
The film deals with young Louise who is invited to train at a posh dance school in New York City in 1922. She’s too young to go alone so the family sends Elizabeth McGovern’s Norma Carlisle along to chaperone.
That’s like trying to herd cats.
Though she grew up in Kansas, Louise is quite worldly, drop-dead gorgeous and manipulative. Men are putty in her hands and she knows it and Norma quickly learns that fact. Norma also doubles as Louise putty. At least part of the time. The who’s going to run things battles are interesting but not the focal point of the movie.
Norma’s volunteering to chaperone comes with an ulterior motive. She was born in New York City, given up and adopted. Norma wants to find her birth mom. The Catholic orphanage refuses to help. So Norma connects with the janitor and convinces him to give her access to her birth records.
Their relationship is as — or even more — fascinating than that of Louise and Norma. Norma’s story is also the film’s driver and what makes this a must-see movie.
The Chaperone is written and directed by two Downton Abbey pros. Michael Engler has directed several episodes and the film is written by Julian Fellowes who won an Oscar for Gosford Park, has written several Downton Abbey episodes and penned the upcoming screenplay of the soon-to-be-released Downton Abbey movie.
McGovern and Richardson do a wonderful character dance that is as fun to watch as Richardson’s elegant and sometimes sensual dance with Broadway star Robert Fairchild. He plays husband half of the dance studio management duo.
Richardson (Five Feet Apart) is pitch perfect as a mostly spoiled brat whose morals aren’t even close to those adopted by most — even those in theater and the movies — of that era. She drinks, parties and is — as a teenager — already sexually active.
As good as Richardson and the other co-stars are, McGovern owns this movie. That said, owning it with her is Geza Rohrig who plays the janitor. Their chemistry is incredible and both give exceptional performances.
However, McGovern — who is one of Downton Abbey’s biggest stars — has never been better. If enough of the right people see this one, this is award-winning territory. McGovern plays Norma as emotionally strong and totally proper on the outside but with cracks.
She brilliantly explores those nuanced cracks a scene at a time.
The rest of the cast is equally talented. All play their small parts perfectly. Many nicely round their characters into multi-dimensional beings. Others make them flat, shallow and arrogant and believably so.
Another huge positive of The Chaperone are the sets and the costumes. Engler doesn’t just make his movie look like the 1920s. He actually puts you so completely into the era that you actually believe you’re there.
If you have a chance, see this one.
Director: Michael Engler
Stars: Haley Lu Richardson, Elizabeth McGovern, Geza Rohrig, Campbell Scott, Mirando Otto, Blythe Danner, Robert Fairchild, Victoria Hill
A wonderfully done character study based on real life people. The key word is “based” but who cares. Downton Abbey’s Elizabeth McGovern will blow you away. See this one. Give it a 5 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
Click here for theaters and show times.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.