(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reel Thoughts: Cherish

While you’ll have to wait until March 1 to see Cher in her most recent role in Burlesque on DVD, now is the perfect time to check out her first roles, followed by four of her notable performances since then. Cher: The Movie Collection gives you six chances to cherish Cher, even if the films are sometimes a hoot or a drag.

The first DVD is more of a Sonny movie than a Cher one. Good Times, starring Cher’s ex, the late Sonny Bono, is a bizarre film filled where the then-hot duo are being cajoled into making Hollywood trash by none other than George Sanders, channeling his Addison DeWitt character from All About Eve. It’s hard to care whether or not the “kids” sell out and make the hillbilly hit Sanders wants, since their alternatives are a bunch of skits (a western, a jungle saga and a private eye spoof) done better on their variety show. Still, both Sonny and Cher sing, and it’s fascinating to imagine that he was the bigger star back then.

Next is Chastity, where Cher plays a teen-aged runaway with a secret, who can’t let anyone get too close to her. People sure try, though, from the guy she scams at a gas station, to a nice guy she calls Andre to the lesbian madam of a Mexican whorehouse where Chastity hangs out after fleeing domestic bliss with Andre. It’s a 60’s road trip that is a hoot, but it’s most notable for its Phoenix locations. Look closely and you’ll see Wagon Wheel Kiddie Land (where the madam who looks like Shirley Partridge takes Chastity), the Phoenix Zoo, the long lost Japanese flower gardens on Baseline and Macayo’s on Central.

(It bears noting that Chaz Bono, Cher’s trangender son, was conceived during this film, and named for a character who is basically a hustler and wannabe hooker. It’s like Sir Anthony Hopkins naming his kid Hannibal.)

The next films are more familiar Cher fare, and probably don’t need introductions. As Dolly Pelliker in 1983’s Silkwood, Cher plays the lesbian roommate of Meryl Streep’s ill-fated whistle-blower. Cher captures her character’s conflicting loyalties perfectly. Her Oscar-nominated performance put her on the map as a dramatic actress.

Then comes her Oscar-winning performance in 1987’s Moonstruck, where Cher plays Loretta, a dowdy New York bookkeeper who blossoms when forced to choose between a nice-guy suitor (Danny Aiello) and his handsome estranged younger brother (Nicolas Cage). This is Cher at her best, and she’s luminous in the role.

1990’s Mermaids comes next, starring Cher as the scandalous single mother of Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci, who is adorable in her very first film. The collection ends with 1999’s Tea With Mussolini, Cher’s only trip to period drama à la Merchant Ivory. Franco Zeffirelli directed this semi-autobiographical story of a boy raised by an Englishwoman in Mussolini’s Italy. Cher is gorgeous as Elsa, a Jewish-American heiress who falls victim to internment while trying to help a group of British women (Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Judi Dench).

Certainly, there are titles missing from this collection, since it contains only MGM releases, but Cher: The Movie Collection is a great way to enjoy Cher’s second best talent after singing.

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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