Colette Review: A Period Piece With Modern Day Values
R: Some sexuality/nudity
1 Hr and 51 Minutees
Bleecker Street, 30West, Bold Films
Dir: Wash Westmoreland | Writers: Wash Westmoreland, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Richard Glatzer
Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Denise Gough
After marrying a successful Parisian writer known commonly as "Willy" (Dominic West), Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Soon after, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite for him. She pens a semi-autobiographical novel about a witty and brazen country girl named Claudine, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation. After its success, Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris and their adventures inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette's fight over creative ownership and gender roles drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression.
Keira Knightley and period pieces. Name a better duo. This actress has had an ample amount of roles that take place around the 18th or 19th centuries, but as she does this, she keeps climbing up the tier of memorable roles. “Colette” is Knightley’s most God-tier role to date. She takes account of all of the actions Colette has done in her life and applies them to her performance. I mean, I never thought I would see Knightley do a thoroughly-choreographed Egyptian-style dance. She’s carefree, passionate, and outspoken about what she feels. She has one of the worst husbands in the world and even though she lives under his shadow, Colette expresses her thoughts to him during a time where women speaking their minds was often looked down upon.
But when she finally snaps, boy does that award bell ring and God does she deliver chills. The film comes to a halt and says, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you future three-time Academy Award Nominee Keira Knightley.”
Earlier this year, I saw this movie called “Mary Shelley”, starring Elle Fanning, which was based on the life of the woman who created Frankenstein and you know what? It was terrible. It had a great blueprint for what an empowering movie was and it squandered it with poor storytelling. Now, with “Colette”, you have a similar story where the wife of a famed author doesn’t get the credit to the work she creates for her husband, but here’s the thing: This is far more entertaining and actually has substance to its narrative. I didn’t see the trailer for this at all, so when this film reaches a certain plot point, it is surprisingly glorious.
Honestly, I had to write down in my notes: “Wait, is this a queer movie? HOLY SHIT THIS IS A QUEER MOVIE!”
This story is centered on a writer who is overshadowed by her husband and discovers her own sexual identity through trials and tribulations in a time when homophobia and sexism were dominant. There is a progressive nature to the story and it delivers rather decently. It’s nowhere near perfect, but it gets its story across just fine.
Dominic West is great at performing the world’s biggest asshole. There have been a number of terribly-mannered male characters in films this year, as recently as Chris O’ Dowd in “Juliet, Naked” and Jack Reynor in “Kin”, but none of them come close to Dominic West who plays Colette’s egocentric, trifling husband Willy. Okay, actually Reynor takes the cake here, let’s be honest; his character is the worst. But, West’s Willy is bad. The best way to describe him is… sleazebag. A charismatic, trifling sleazebag that we today would call a fuckboi. He has a girl he’s married to, constantly cheats on her with some side pieces, and tries to create a million excuses in order for her to stay with him.
The best thing that Willy does is give Colette her own place of solitude at the countryside and that becomes her bachelorette pad. Another good thing that Willy does is inadvertently enable Colette’s coming out and accepts her for it. If he gets to sleep around, she might as well do the same. But, every every time you think he would do something charming, Willy pulls a 180 and does something slimy and conniving for the sake of his own fame. Think of it as if Belle married Gaston, but if Gaston was book smart and Belle was gay. But at the end of the day:
What I do admire about these characters is that the book franchise they build is the only strain to their marriage as they become people who fuck around with other people, but they don’t give each other shit about it. After Colette starts sleeping with an American woman, Willy tries to go out to investigate but then ends up screwing her. When Colette finds out, she rightfully gets mad, but also tells him: “Well, who cares because I fucked her too.” She doesn’t say it as bluntly as I did, for she says it in the most British way possible, but you get what I mean.
One has a fetish of having women dress up as his own… well, his wife’s... creation, while the other enjoys sex with the same gender. Mind you, this all takes place in the late 19th century and goes on through the early 20th, but it feels so relevant today. You don’t see movies where a couple are in a polygamous relationship. They are aware of each other’s sexual activities and their marriage becomes somewhat stable because of it.
I also admire the film’s art direction. As I said, it is a period piece and features all the best aspects of British period pieces that take place in the late 19th century. The costumes are great, the cinematography is magnificent, and it has a lively atmosphere to it. The film primarily takes place in France, yet we follow a lot of British characters, so try not to call it a British drama.
Throughout the movie, there are odd (and often baffling) moments of humor that distract the story from progressing and hinders scenes that are intended to feel strong and powerful. There is an out-of-place fart joke. Yeah, a fart joke. And it’s so irrelevant that it catches you off guard. It's like a blooper they wanted to keep in case anyone in the audience started to get bored.
At first, the dialogue goes from being proper, prim, and sophisticated to lowbrow British comedy. Just when you write this movie off as another British biopic drama, the dialogue then becomes humorous, which works later on, but for the first 30 - 40 minutes, it’s bizarre.
When Colette makes out with a woman for the first time, she says: “You have the most beautiful TEETH!” Out of all things to compliment Keira Knightley (not Colette, but Keira Knightley) on, you chose her teeth? I’m not kidding you, everyone in the small screening room roared in laughter because of how odd that was. The humor becomes well-balanced soon after where it works with the scandalous narrative.
If your movie is going to have a progression of time, show HOW YOUR CHARACTERS AGE. I’m not saying to go “On Chesil Beach” with your makeup, but make it look like your characters aged like normal people do. This entire story takes place in the time span of 10 years and nobody ages. Knightley remains flawless as ever when this character is supposed to get older. The only thing about Colette that changes is her style of clothing, which is great for her character development, but Willy doesn’t change at all.
Behind every writer there’s a strong woman making him look good, and that's the central plot of the film. So, if you’re a writer and you happen to have a female copy editor, please respect them.
Since some men can’t write for shit, the women are there to take things up a notch and make him look good. That said, HEY MYAN! I respect you, you’re awesome, and you’re the best friend a critic could ask for. Please make me look good.
I bet those sentences were originally fragmented and my copy editor Myan fixed them up. She’s awesome. Sorry, this review is getting meta, but this is a movie about a woman who writes for her husband and he takes credit for her work. I might as well give credit to my good friend who makes my reviews sound a little more coherent.
While the humorous aspects are a bit unbalanced, “Colette” manages to prosper from strong direction, a progressive narrative, and another powerful performance by Keira Knightley.
Rating: 3.5/5 | 70%
Super Scene: “You, K, man we been messin’ with the same girl” montage