Coco Chanel (DVD Review)6 Jun, 2009 By: Billy Gil
Prebook 6/9/09; Street 7/7/09
Rated ‘PG’ for sensuality, some thematic material and historical smoking throughout.
Stars Shirley MacLaine, Barbara Bobulova, Malcolm McDowell, Christian Duguay.
The life story of a fashion designer may not seem like compelling viewing, but Coco Chanel’s story proves fascinating and inspiring in the Lifetime TV movie bearing her name.
Chanel was born in 1883 in France to a poor family. She learned to be strong at an early age, after her mother died and her father abandoned her and her sister.
Strong-willed Chanel ends up as a seamstress. She leaves the shop briefly for a handsome young playboy, but it’s clear Chanel was meant for more than life as a social climber.
Those only accustomed to hearing the name Chanel in conjunction with high-end fabrics and fragrances will be interested to discover her humble beginnings and way-ahead-of-her-time approach, informing movements in fashion and feminism with her free-flowing attire, inspiring women to dress for themselves, not for men.
Slovak actress Barbara Bobulova plays the young Chanel with a collected confidence that shines well past her estimable beauty. But while Bobulova rarely engages in theatrics, her co-stars, playing the elder Chanel (Shirley MacLaine) and business partner Marc Bouchier (Malcolm McDowell) get a bit campy. Their performances are fine, but it seems like they’re acting in a different film.
The focus mostly stays with the young Chanel, however, and only occasionally bounces back to after World War II, when Chanel re-emerges after a sabbatical from the fashion world.
Even at over two hours, I wasn’t tired of hearing her story — the end of the flashback sequence is rather abrupt, and the film seems as though it could have been expanded into a two-part miniseries. The last half of the film, in which Chanel’s fashion and fragrance line really began to take off, could have been expanded. It’s in this portion of the film that the “Project Runway” set could learn from watching Chanel work tirelessly, literally tearing fashion conventions to shreds and regularly balking over societal rules about how women should act and dress.