The Chaperone Review - Exceptionally Good Performances, Well Written, A Must See

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The Chaperone, from PBS Distribution, presents the story of Louise Brooks, the silent film star of the 1920s, just as she is bidding goodbye to Wichita, Kansas to begin her study of modern dance in New York City.

Directed by Michael Engler, The Chaperone stars Haley Lu Richardson, Elizbeth McGovern, Mirando Otto, Blythe Danner, Campbell Scott, Victoria Hills, Geza Rohrig, Jonathan Walker, Matt McGrath, Ellen Toland, Robert Fairchild, and Daisy Pugh-Weiss. The Chaperone was written by Julian Fellowes based on the book by Laura Moriarty.

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The film begins with a pan of framed movie posters and other celebrity pictures of a raven-haired beauty. Slowly, a woman, walks up the stairs and knocks on the bedroom door. "Louise," the woman calls out, soon the door opens and like a passageway we are transitioned to some years before.

As Norma, played by Elizabeth McGovern and her husband, Alan Carlisle, played by Campbell Scott, are attending a recital featuring Louise Brooks, played by Haley Lu Richardson, a 16 year old dance prodigy who has just been accepted to study at the fame DennisShawn Dance school in New York City and her mother, Myra, played by Victoria Hill, will be accompanying her on the piano.

Before the performance begins Norma overhears Myra explaining that if they can’t find a chaperone for Louise, she won’t be able to attend. After the presentation Norma explains she would like to purpose herself for the chaperone position.

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At home, we see looks may be deceiving as Norma and Alan sleep in separate beds and he is less than enthusiast about her trip. A lawyer, he has provided nicely for her and their two grown sons.

Suddenly the two are off, Louise who believes in her destiny and Norma who is searching for hers.

Once they arrive, Manhattan in 1922, is as full of wonder and awe as it is for every person that steps foot in the Big Apple. With Louise studying during the days, Norma decides to go downtown, near 17th Street, which we find out is considered unsavory and no good, respecting, woman especially would be found in the area.

During the train ride, we find Norma is an orphan and she was left at a convent and wants to find her birth mother. So now, she is sitting in front of the head Sister and is being told no good can come of knowing.

On a quest she leaves undeterred and returns the next day. Explaining to a handyman, Joseph, played by Geza Rohrig, she just needs a few minutes in the records room. She’d be out before Mass is over. Presenting her situation as compelling, Joseph accepts and allows her access to the room.

Triumphant, she now has an address and writes to her mother, played by Blythe Danner.

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Louise, as expected, become the star pupil at the Dennis-Shawn, under the direction of Ruth St. Dennis, played by Miranda Otto and Ted Shawn, played by Robert Fairchild. And with that she was asked to join the troupe.

The Chaperone chronicles the six weeks before Silent Film star Louise Brooks goes from just another hopeful to professional dancer and star. The film is exceptionally good. Not that one could see red flags or other indicators of a lesser quality. It just doesn’t appear as if it would be as engaging and entertaining as it is.

The backstories, which have very contemporary themes, explore how much human behavior hasn’t changed over the last century. The harshness and realities of life are played out with both facing demons and making decisions that make the choices easier.

The cast is superb. Haley Lu Richardson, a newcomer who has proven she has depth and range, give another noteworthy performance. Elizabeth McGovern also surprised tackling with a role that challenges societal norms in the 1920s. Blythe Danner, who had one scene, held the attention as she covered a range of emotions.

Campbell Scott delivered a subdued dramatic performance that presented questions that many grapple with every day. The writing was very strong with scenes and dialogue that challenged one’s perceptions and felt genuine. 

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The Chaperone delivers with provoking authenticity. It is well worth seeing, a fresh choice from all the razzle dazzle of special effects and suspense filling the box office.

The Chaperone opens in select cities March 29, 2019. See this.

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