There’s a great movie to be made about the life and career of silent screen icon Louise Brooks. Michael Engler’s The Chaperone is not that movie, although it’s a great movie in other ways. In 1922 Kansas, unhappy society matron Norma Carlisle (Elizabeth McGovern) offers to escort the 15-year-old Louise (Haley Lu Richardson) to a New York dance academy. (Norma is very 1920s-conservative, but so that we’ll know she isn’t problematically so, the movie establishes early on that she’s opposed to the Klan.)
While Louise is off indulging in speakeasy hedonism, the orphaned Norma searches for her birth mother, leading her to the convent where she grew up, and eventually into the arms of its groundskeeper, German immigrant Joseph (Géza Röhrig!). The Chaperone ends with an onscreen recap of Louise Brooks’s post-1942 career, and Haley Lu is fine as Lulu, but her character could have been any free-spirited young woman. The true heart of the film is the romance between Norma and Joseph, and its greatest revelation is Röhrig’s performance. In only his third feature after 2015’s Son of Saul and this year’s To Dust, he finally gets to play a romance, and it’s lovely. We knew Louise Brooks was a timeless beauty, but it turns out Röhrig’s simple smile is also a heartbreaker.
Not rated. Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.