Review: THE CHAPERONE
THE CHAPERONE promises a look at a young Louise Brooks on the brink of stardom and the effect she has on all around her from the makers of DOWNTON ABBEY. That’s a premise when paired with up and comer Haley Lu Richardson that promises a lot. Unfortunately, what it delivers is more suited to Masterpiece Theater on PBS and even in that context it would be a weak entry.
Based on a best seller, THE CHAPERONE purports to tell the story of Louise Brooks getting a chance to partake in a summer program at the distinguished Denisshaw school of modern dance in New York City, far from her Kansas home. To do so, she must be accompanied by a chaperone, and one Mrs. Norma Carlise (Elizabeth McGovern) volunteers, with an agenda of her own. It turns out that Norma was once adopted from a New York orphanage and she views this as an opportunity to find out where she came from. When she’s not coping with Louise Brooks’ forays into the Roaring ‘20s, which Louise will soon be one of the foremost symbols of.
On paper, that’s fertile ground for a movie. Alas, in execution, THE CHAPERONE lacks the energy and edge of any of Louise Brooks’s movies. Generally, it’s dramatically inert, fighting social battles that are mostly over. Yes, segregation and racism in Kansas was bad. And yes, prohibition was misguided. Maybe, there are points to be made when the film gets around to sexual repression and “slut shaming”, but it wastes too much of its energy on battles long since fought and won, and provides very little insight into those long since won battles, to leave much left for battles still being fought.
None of that may have ultimately mattered if the film was told with verve and style. Alas, the film lacks the dialogue snap of DOWNTON ABBEY, despite a Julian Fellowes screenplay, and frankly looks like television with no sense of scale or dynamism in its direction. Despite a few melodramatic turns, there’s little edge to the whole thing. The best thing about the film, Haley Lu Richardson, is given not much to do except to be a teenager eager to grow up fast. There are a few promising bits between her and her chaperone, the film comes to life at intervals when the two discover that they actually have feelings and ideas about the world in common, but the film is too afraid of offending the eventual Masterpiece Theater crowd to actually explore these ideas to their full extent. The most shocking thing Louise Brooks does in the film is throw up in a toilet after a night at a speakeasy. Elizabeth McGovern, the title character who the film is ultimately about, gets more to do, but about all the film lets her do is exclaim a shocking “horse feathers”. The film yearns for a catharsis, but straightjackets its characters into milquetoasts.
Which is a shame, as there is potential here. A more inspired creative team could have done something with this. Instead, it looks like shameless pandering to the DOWNTON ABBEY crowd who deserve much better than what THE CHAPERONE is serving up.