Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Film Review - Coco Before Chanel

Film #28 of 2010 - Coco Before Chanel

Starring Audrey Tautou (Amelie) and directed by Anne Fontaine, Coco Before Chanel is a biopic of Coco Chanel when Coco had just become her nickname and she was better known as Gabrielle. Nicknamed Coco for a song she sang with her sister in a saloon after they left the convent-run orphanage where they were dropped off by their father, Chanel becomes the mistress of a rich, drunken playboy named Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde)who keeps her hidden from his friends at first, mainly for her background and unconventional manner, but grows to be more accepting, mainly by her sheer will. Though Chanel has affection for Balsan, she doesn't love him and wants to leave, but feels trapped because he can provide her with status and wealth. When she meets his friend Arthur "Boy" Capel (Alessandro Nivola) she falls in love for the first time and feels able to finally move out on her own and finally open up her hat shop in Paris.

Having read a biography and countless articles about Coco Chanel, I was excited to see this movie, but was soon disappointed when many aspects of her early life were omitted, things that would have led an audience who may not be familiar with her life to understand how she became Coco Chanel. Even Boy, the great love of her life was relegated to about a half hour of the film, while Chanel's trials and tribulations with Balsan made up the lion's share of the film. Other than seeing her rip up some of Balsan's clothes to tailor them to her taste and making a few alterations to a couple of her own pieces, there was no build up to Chanel becoming the incredible clothing designer she did. It was as if she were making her hats and then there was about a 3 minute montage of her suddenly making clothes and voila, there she was on the grand staircase of her studio watching models parade into a fashion show wearing her creations. I think there was a lot more that could have been done with the film during the 105 minute running time (even extending the film as long as the previous scenes were edited to have better pacing) to make Coco Before Chanel more effective. Even the costumes, while kind of neat, weren't that fabulous, despite their recent Oscar nomination in that category.

I expected Tautou to do a good job, and she did; she was lovely, feisty and intelligent. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the rest of the film, and it truly left me with a feeling of, "eh." I think that I probably had the same posture and expression on my face as the picture of Tautou above while I was watching Coco Before Chanel. I'm glad that I've seen it, but, unlike Chanel herself, the film was completely forgettable.

2.5 stars out of 5

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