My inaugural entry in Master of Bates is an exploration/liveblog/exhumation of Cheri, a 2009 romantic tragedy starring Michelle Pfiffer as Lea, a washed-up old cootbag of a former French Sex Worker, and Some Discount Daniel Radcliffe / Eddie Redmayne Type With a Bad Dye-Job as the titular Cheri, the son of some Grande Sex Worker Madam to the Stars played histrionically by our mother, Kathy Bates. I can’t even remember what Bates’ character’s name was, and I just finished watching this crap.
Ida, Amy Thompson, and I had originally planned to watch Misery, but Netflix recently took that campy tour de force of a psychotic bottle episode off its streaming list, so we had to pick the best option from Netflix’s depressingly small list of Kathy Bates’ offerings: the live-action Charlotte’s Web, Little Black Book (RIP Brittney Murphy), and this trashheap. Bates got top billing in this film on IMDB, alongside Pfiffer, which isn’t really fair since all she does is bustle around doffed in increasingly ludicrous hats, sobbing and/or laughing.
The Following is a Liveblog of the Plot of Cheri, with Incidental Observations and Screencaps Courtesy of Erika Price (courtesy of the print screen function of their laptop)
The film opens with faux-fancy British narration and title cards about famous sex workers in history. Tonally it’s really weird. I think one of the high-class political sex workers mentioned was Lola “Spider Dance” Montez, whom Joanna Newsome wrote Have One on Me about, so really you should just listen to that song instead of watching this.
And then all of a sudden one of the well-renowned political sex workers is a badly photo-shopped Michelle Pfieffer.
Based on a novel ohh boy.
Meet Lea. Lea is a fancy old sex worker. She has a long ratty wig that tapers off into a sad Revolutionary War era ponytail at the end, and she’s seemingly retired into great wealth. She loves to sleep in bed alone, with only her maid to harass with inane observations about how sweet her lavish, lonesome life is.
Enter Cheri, who is the sad slutty son of Kathy Bates (who is, as far as I can tell, a courtesan manager or something). Cheri lives a debauched but joyless life, mostly banging women who works for or with his mom.
Whimsical woodwinds abound as we are introduced to these characters. Well, there’s whimsical woodwinds at all points in this disaster, actually. The costumes are numerous but cheap.
We follow Pfife’s character as she travels to the French (?) countryside to meet with her one dear friend, Kathy Bates. Because sex work is a lonesome profession. THE NARRATOR SAYS THIS ALOUD.
Bates and Pfife share some dranks in basically the overgrown greenhouse room of the Haunted Mansion ride. They sit on fur-covered coaches and gab for a while, and then the purpose of the meeting comes to light. Bates says that her son,Cheri, is woefully depressed and needs Pfife to cheer him up.
Enter Cheri and his fake under-eye circles, looking like a phlegmatic dime-store version of Lord Byron.
Seriously, I am a noted lover of small, dark haired, sad-looking men with strong cheekbones, and even I cannot move myself to give a crap about this guy. It takes a really really overblown level of pathos for me to be turned off, let me tell you. But something about Cheri (i’m not even gonna scroll up to remind myself of the actor’s name) is just so pitiful and apathetic that it is an utter, utter bonerkill for me.
But not, apparently for Pfife.
Cheri and Pfife eyefuck for a while in a greenhouse sitting on the grandest and dopiest of the fur couches. As soon as the get to talking, Bates scuttles out like a scared bird and slams the door. She wants to guarantee her beautiful son a one-way ticket to pound town, and apparently there isn’t room on that train for the both of them.
Pfife invites Cheri on a trip to Vegas or something and she says his eyes look like fish and they kiss. A softly lit bedroom encounter occurs. The next morning, the two sojourn to Pfife’s lush country home.
Then Cheri boxes some dude shirtless in the yard of a Thomas Kinkade fairy cottage. This scene lasts fourteen seconds??? And serves no purpose.
Pfife la travailleuse du sexe: Painter of Light.
Cheri and Pfife share a decadent breakfast-in-bed of shrimp, clams, Munster cheese, and crackers. And then they bang while he wears satin pants that Ida described as basketball tear-aways.
The next day, Pfife gets a massage outside. Her masseuse totally cruises Cheri. Cheri looks like Oscar Wilde and a fisherman had a shitty preadolescent son who played in a Brechtian pop-punk band, and not even the Dresden Dolls, but like a worse one.
Time passes and Cheri has longer hair and wears makeup, and wants to get a hold of Pfife’s pearl necklace. A lot of subtext is really well visually telegraphed. Actually, you know what, not at all, because it does not turn out that Cheri is a trans woman, or sexually aroused by wearing women’s clothing, or anything. He just comes across as really generically prissy and feminine in some scenes.
Kathy Bates comes to visit Pfife’s country home, and tries to hook her son up with the daughter of a fellow sex worker. The girl is a plainer looking Lana del Rey or maybe someone from Downtown Abbey. She is sweet and virginal and pictured below in white because DUH.
Pfife is salty about the forthcoming nuptials of her boy toy but hides her jealousy behind a hat made of Easter grass.
Pfife and Bates take a stroll in the rose bushes. Bates is verclempt with the desire for grandbabies. Then for no reason Bates clutches Pifife to her bosom and cries out that she smells so good, probably because her raggedy old skin sucks up perfume like Pfife used to suck up semen. Ida thinks this was an ad-libbed line, which makes sense since it’s the only piece of dialogue by Kathy Bates that doesn’t serve to advance the tired-ass plot.
Pfife fights and trades snipes with a very shaggy, brooding Cheri, who stands to make over a million by marrying Lana del Rey. Cheri and Pfife bang again, this time with like wind chimes and a slow pan.
Cheri’s a little lad who loves berries and cream.
Pfife takes Cheri shopping for a wedding present. He wants a pink pearl necklace (no joke) and Pfife pink-shames him. Ida pointed out that this is not historically accurate, as pink was not even femininely coded at this point in history. HA HA FUCK YOU CELESTE OR WHOMEVER WROTE THAT. The next scene is the wedding, interspersed with images of Pfife crying and yelling “CHERIIIIII” in bed.
Distraught and lonesome, Pfife eats ice cream and buys herself a big emerald.
At the wedding, the bride’s mom gives her regards and then DASHES the FUQ off to meet with a client. “ It’s amazing she was off her back long enough to sit through the ceremony,”Bates observes. Internalized ho shame.
After the wedding, Brooding Bishonen Boy Cheri has stilted sex with Pfife again.
OOPS NAH bitch it was a dream!!! Fucking syke!
Now a washed up old retiree with no prospects (two weeks later), Pfife hangs out in mourning attire with a bunch of old sex workers, including an actual trans woman who is treated oddly respectfully (thank God), and Kathy Bates. An old woman with drawn-on Dresden Dolls eyebrows joins them, dressed like a sad clown and a circus tent, attended by a fourteen year old British(?) version of Paul Dano. He’s the clown lady’s husband and his name is Guido!!! They MAKE OUT LIKE CRAZY and seem to be genuinely in love despite the marked power imbalance.
Pfife is distraught by this sight AND IT’S FEARSOME RESEMBLANCE TO HER SITUATION, however, and falls over herself running off to cry Cheri’s name in bed. Then she sojourns to Mikonos or something and watches some swole patrol dude in a onesie play with his balls.
Swole Patrol’s mom hooks him up with Pfife, because 80 year old socialites were totally into their sons becoming enchanted with 50 year old sex workers back then.
Cheri and his wife Lana del Rey come to visit mama Bates, where Cheri learns of Pfife’s new, swole squeeze. He immediately builds a house across the park from where Pfife’s apartment is. When his sad, mousy wife reminds him of this proximity, Cheri denies it, and then literally goes “Oh hey I have to go do something I just remembered oop sorry” and then makes a visit to Pfife’s house.
Unable to find Pfife, Cheri decides he might as well talk to his wife. They commiserate on the subject of having negligent sex worker moms and then Cheri does a ballet routine that horrifies the libido straight out of his bride, just like when Sal did a Bye Bye Birdie drag routine for his wife on Mad Men.
Cheri’s wife cries and pouts. “All you ever think about is that old woman!!” Cheri literally leans back and goes wooo, pfffffft, here we go.
Cheri goes downtown for some cheeky nandos with the lads but instead ends up porking two heavily mascaraed octogenarians. He fondles one of their pearls. “They’re fake,” she says. Almost like she’s a pale imitation of what he’s really craving. Ugh.
Some time later, Pfife is irritating the shit out of her maid when Bates makes a house call to rub salt in her coot about Cheri. Turns out he’s reconciled with his wife and Bates is DELIGHTED. Pfife, to her credit, puts a brave face on in it. Bates asks to look at Pfife’s Snapchat and see noods of her new beau, Swole Patrol…
…and then reveals it was Cheri who sent her to check in on Pfife and see how she was doing. Swoon! He does love her!
That night, Cheri storms into our favorite retired sex worker’s apartment, and Pfife scrambles to put on her pearls to get his motor going. They fight and fuck and declare their love. Well Pfife does.
The morning after, Pfife squabbles and fusses over her bouncing baby boy telling him to take his medication and put on his Biore pore strips and then he totally MOM ZONES HER. For the first time in the film he shows an emotion, screaming at her that it was just a bang, not a relationship, and that she can’t keep hovering over him and trying to control him.
Then he says she has turned into an old woman. And then he cries.
Then Pfife delivers this LONG, UNNECESSARY ASS-CHAFE of a monologue about how she always loved him as though they would die on the same day, and how once you’ve had a taste of youth, you keep coming back to it, though you are never satisfied. WHILE HIS FACE IS BURIED IN HER COOT.
After coming up for air, Cheri absconds for his sad pale bride Lana del Rey. The narrator pops in to tell us that a wall was built in the dead center of the park separating Cheri and Pfife’s houses, and that they never spoke again. Some time later, Cheri realized that Pfife was the only woman he would ever be capable of loving, and once he realized that, HE PUT A BULLET IN HIS BRAIN.
AND THEN WE ARE TREATED TO AN AWKWARDLY LONG SILENT SHOT OF MICHELLE PFIFFER STARING AT HERSELF ALL LOPSIDED IN THE MIRROR i was so afraid there was gonna be a loud bullet noise at the very end thank the LORD there was not
And that’s the movie! I would not recommend it to anyone, ever. It’s so slapdash and poorly paced and so chock full of narrative dead ends that I’ve got to assume a whole subplot where Cheri discovers his real sexuality or gender was utterly dropped. The performances are uninspired, anachronisms flow like water from a fountain, and the costumes are a nauseating mix of pastel and art-deco…lace??? Even our dear beloved Bates is a mess of inconsistent characterization and hastily, perfunctorily read dialogue.
I’m glad I got to watch this with Ida and Amy, as they kept the mood light and made paying attention possible and not painful. At one point Ida began to sing “If you wanna be my lover — “ at which point Amy chimed in: “You’ve got to be my mom’s friend!” which sent all of us into paroxysms of laughter, because not only is it true of the fundamental character arc of the film, it’s a useful rule for real life.