There’s an intriguing story to be told about silent film actress Louise Brooks. A figure beyond her years, her sleek bob hairstyle was the trademark that assisted her in breaking conventions of what was expected of women in the 1920’s. A starlet worthy of her own biopic, The Chaperone is sadly not the type of production she as a topic deserves, nor is it for actress Haley Lu Richardson. Portraying Brooks as a young teenager on the cusp of becoming a star, Richardson is all charisma and bite, but her enthusiasm for the character is contained within a film that falls short of its promise.
A reunion of sorts for Downton Abbey series writer Julian Fellowes and star Elizabeth McGovern (she plays the Countess of Grantham on the long-running drama), The Chaperone itself feels more suited for the smaller screen, with director Michael Engler (a TV director himself who has helmed episodes for such programs as Party of Five, Sex and the City, 30 Rock, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and screenwriter Fellowes unable to overcome the more limited mentality the film displays in regards to its dialogue and social views that feel all too much like a modern examination skewed for the 1920’s time-frame.
The titular chaperone is high society matron Norma Carlisle (McGovern, who’s often a little too saccharine for her own good), a Kansas housewife who, whilst attending a fundraiser where the young Louise is performing a modern dance routine, overhears Mrs. Brooks (Victoria Hill) mention the trouble she’s having in finding a suitable chaperone to accompany her daughter to New York City; Louise has been accepted as a student at the prestigious Denishaw modern dance school there.
Hardly allowing her husband (Campbell Scott) a moment to broach a discussion on whether she should accompany the rebellious Louise – we learn through a series of flashbacks as to why there’s an evident discord in her marriage – Norma’s life appears in desperate need of shake-up, and the allure of New York City is all too enticing, though not necessarily for the reasons audiences may assume given the extreme opposite personalities of Norma and Louise; a buddy comedy this is not.
Given the title of the film, Brooks’ story is not Engler’s focus, merely she’s a supporting character in Norma’s tale. And whilst Norma’s journey is an emotional one (there’s quite a saddening scene involving Blythe Danner as a pivotal key figure in Norma’s life), and one worthy of being told, the allure of Louise’s temperament and Richardson’s portrayal means the character we find the most exciting is not afforded to us as much as we’d appreciate.
Not so much a bad film as it is underwhelming and falling short of its promise, all The Chaperone really achieves is wetting our appetites for a full feature about Louise Brooks.
About The Chaperone
The life of a Kansas woman (Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey) is forever changed when she chaperones a beautiful and talented 15-year-old dancer named Louise Brooks to New York for the summer. One of them is eager to fulfil her destiny of dance and movie stardom; the other hopes to unearth the mysteries of her past.
The Chaperone (PG) is screening in Australian theatres from 25th April 2019.