Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
Near the beginning of Colette’s novel Chéri, she gives her young lover a necklace with 49 pearls. We can imagine there is one pearl for every year of her age. Her lover is 24 years younger than she. Therefore, 25. Six years pass. In a way, the movie "Chéri" is about how 25 and 49 are not the same as 31 and 55. Colette tells us their tragedy is they were destined to be the only perfect love in each other’s lives, yet were not born on the same day.
The success of Stephen Frears’ film "Chéri" begins with its casting. Michelle Pfeiffer, as Lea de Lonval, is still a great beauty, but nearing that age when a woman starts counting her pearls. Rupert Friend, as her lover Chéri, is 27 and looks younger — too young to play James Bond, although he was considered. They are both accomplished actors, which is important, because "Chéri" tells a story of nuance and insinuation, concealed feelings and hidden fears.
Lea is a courtesan, currently without court. She has a lot of money and lives luxuriously. Chéri is the son of a courtesan, Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates). She and Lea have been friends for years; courtesans may be rich and famous, but they cannot really talk freely with women not like themselves. Lea was constantly in the life of her friend’s son, named Fred but called Chéri ("darling") by one and all. One day, Madame Peloux comes to her and asks her to take in the boy. She does not quite say (as Lee Marvin tells a whore in "Paint Your Wagon") "I give you the boy. Give me back the man," but she might as well have.
Chéri is far from a virgin, but he needs some reining in. It turns out he accepts Lea’s saddle quite willingly. What begins as lovemaking quickly becomes love, and they float in a perfumed world of opulent comfort, Lea paying all the bills. The two things a courtesan cannot ever do are really fall in love and reveal what she is really thinking. Lea fails at the first.