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I'm rating Lifetime's "Coco Chanel" 9/10 as a creative made-for-TV biopic. Yes, all reviews are subjective. However, I suspect that some folks who have berated the movie on the IMDb boards and on other websites may have become confused by thinking that Shirley MacLaine in the title role means the film should be judged for Oscar-worthiness. To that, I respond with a resounding NO! The first time I sat down to watch "Coco Chanel," I knew to hook up the coffeemaker and have a plate of my favorite store-brand cookies on hand, as there's no patisserie nearby where I can grab a flaky pain au chocolat.
My point is I wanted an old-fashioned love story and a Coco Chanel séance, and by God I got both thanks to Shirley MacLaine pretending to be the first lady of the House of Chanel. And I'm glad that Lifetime tackled the project. I pass (out) on the network's dime-a-dozen, women-in-peril movies; only to be outdone by my tabby, who hurls fur balls at the sound of the first cello chord. Seriously, what I love about Lifetime are the quirky, chick-lit-style romances ("Cake" immediately comes to mind) and the historical romances. "Coco Chanel" is best-suited in the latter category.
That the iconoclastic MacLaine portrays the title character makes for a riveting character study accentuated with progressive statements about femininity in male-dominated society (France, in this movie) and about the courage for disenfranchised people of male or female persuasion to be independent-minded as they strive for success. Besides MacLaine, perhaps only Fanny Ardant could have masterfully ("mistressfully"?) channeled Coco Chanel for this Lifetime drama. I mention Ardant's name because I recently watched her in two previously released movies -- "Nathalie," opposite Emmanuelle Beart, and "Paris Je T'aime," the multi-directed cinematic kiss to the city's erotic magnetism. But it is MacLaine in the role, and we get to watch wide-eyed as she magnifies Chanelisms on the small screen.
Through MacLaine's haunting performance of a mature Coco (circa 1954) and Barbora Bobulova's vulnerable delivery playing a young Coco, we are transported back-and-forth in time. The flashbacks are employed effectively, enabling us viewers to sympathize with the mature Coco's regrets about the past, beginning with MacLaine batting her sparkling eyes over a demitasse of espresso or whatever. In the other direction, the flashbacks in "Coco Chanel" allow us viewers to discover how an orphaned girl blossomed into the woman who chiseled her way from France to America to stand out as *the* fashion diva of the early- to mid-20th century. Let's remember that Coco had the balls to wear hats *and* pants. And she had a custom-designed quip for any man -- or woman, for that matter -- who challenged her unconventional ways. You go, Coco! Ahem, back to my review. ...
Currently, "Coco Chanel" is back on cable via the Lifetime On Demand lineup in my area. Tonight is my third time watching the movie in just as many days. Every time I watch the biopic, I am enthralled by its three-pronged approach. To illustrate: 1) Without Mademoiselle Chanel's trailblazing contributions to the history of fashion, where, oh where, would we gals be without our costume jewelry and little black dress? Don't get me started on scarves, though the tragic story of modern-dance pioneer Isadora Duncan offers a bizarre discouragement to favoring *that* kind of accessory. Still, Chanel may have been the first one to say "Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize" -- albeit in French.
2) The torn-between-two-lovers story arc gets the blood pumping in the right direction because it: a) creates titillating plot tension, b) evokes that deceptively innocent-sounding ballad sung by Mary MacGregor in 1977, and c) offers Harlequin-style romantic scenes between beauteous brunette Barbora Bobulova and either of her knights in shifty armor: Sagamore Stevenin (as "Etienne") and Olivier Sitruk (as "Boy" -- oh boy, oh boy, oh, boy!); and 3) Coco's drivenness as an artist is salient in the drama. Against obstacles endemic to social-class prejudice, she bravely struggles between pursuing her art (hat making, her first love) and earning her bread-and-butter (seamstress work).
Ironically, today when many of us think of the Chanel name, the couture fragrance intermingled with Catherine Deneuve's face and platinum blonde hair may come to mind instead of Coco's groundbreaking signature fashions. Lifetime's "Coco Chanel" seems to indicate that the visionary entrepreneur ventured into the olfactory branch of the fashion world reluctantly, and much later in life. It's apropos, though, for a dab here and there of Chanel No. 5 means a woman is wearing it well. And that, my friends, is an exquisite ode to Coco Chanel's lingering legacy. Well, that and being able to have an extended stay at the Hotel Ritz in Paris.
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