This month has been a Shirley Maclaine festival for me, wherein I’ve discovered a new appreciation for her as an actress and not so much as a personality. And so I watched a “Lifetime Movie Event” against my usual taste simply for the pleasure of seeing her embody the larger-than-life persona of Coco Chanel. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for that experience.
Coco Chanel, the TV movie, was slightly better than the usual Lifetime fare, but it still followed the similar format of heavy on melodrama and light on substance. Maclaine’s 70-year-old Chanel was featured only in small bursts throughout the story, while much of the plot focused on her youth. The bulk of the story, in fact, was Chanel’s romantic involvement with two specific men whom she loved and lost. In the midst of this romance drama was a weak thread of the fashion that made Chanel a household name. So little of the story centered around her talents that it would have been easy to mistake her for any other character in any other period romance. And this is such a discredit to the legend that Chanel became.
Though the movie was not unenjoyable, it did leave me wanting much, much more. I wanted to see just how the Chanel empire became the Empire. I wanted to see her actual creative process and development from a simple milliner with an unique style to trendsetting fashion icon instead of having those details used as transition points between romantic entanglements. I even wanted to see how the infamous collection of 1957 transformed the future of fashion and how that affected the elder Chanel. Instead, the movie made little use of Maclaine and told a sweet little story of a young woman trying to find love without losing herself. A good theme, to be sure, but so much less than a film about the life of Coco Chanel deserves.
image from Lifetime Television