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Cousin Bette Movie Review

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From King Kong to Tootsie to Blue Sky to Cousin Bette, Jessica Lange has worked hard on her unusual career. The large range of unconventional roles she has played would never have been offered to any one actress in the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood. Cousin Bette IS a part any full-blooded actress would sacrifice her beauty to portray and Lange is wise to take on character star turns at this stage in her 22 years as a movie star. Bette has lived a second-class life as the poor and plain relation of Baroness Adeline Hulot (Geraldine Chaplin), whom we see dying during the opening credits. Bette hopes to marry the widowed Baron Hulot (Hugh Laurie), but he, alas, only has eyes for the voluptuous dancer Jenny Cadine (Elisabeth Shue, stunningly costumed by Gabriella Pescucci) and therefore magnanimously offers to keep Cousin Bette on as the live-in housekeeper. She, needless to say, is filled with cold fury and dreams of revenge, but accepts the Baron's offer while refusing to live under the same roof. In her hovel, she plays patroness of the arts to an impoverished count and suicidal artist, Wenceslas Steinbach (gorgeous Aden Young). Meanwhile, Baron Hulot's daughter Hortense (Kelly Macdonald) is courted by a series of elderly suitors, including Bob Hoskins as Cesar Crevel, who says he will pay two hundred thousand francs to see her naked. She inhales as if she's sniffing men's drawers that have never been laundered and declines. All the ingredients are in place for Honore de Balzac's in-depth examination of a variety of truly sleazy characters in Paris, circa 1847–48. Lange's interpretation of Cousin Bette is subtle yet passionate, oozing with curdled sweetness on the surface and flashing sparks of the deep pain she's experiencing underneath. Elisabeth Shue is no less splendid as the treacherous Jenny. She's never been more beautiful, yet there is an underlying sense of exhaustion at the reality of being a plaything for an endless line of rich and powerful men. Shue does all her own singing; director Des McAnuff emphasizes the comedy in this tale of fairly brutal sex and money games; and you can expect to see stills from Aden Young's chocolate sauce romp with Shue in a future issue of Celebrity Sleuth. What more can you can ask for from a story that pre-dates the mid-19th century?

1997 (R) 112m/C Jessica Lange, Elisabeth Shue, Aden Young, Bob Hoskins, Kelly Macdonald, Hugh Laurie, Geraldine Chaplin, Toby Stephens, John Sessions; D: Des McAnuff; W: Lynn Siefert, Susan Tarr; C: Andrzej Sekula; M: Simon Boswell. VHS, Closed Caption

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