Review: 'The Chaperone' steps on own foot

'Downton Abbey' team hit big screen with story that actively works against itself

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Haley Lu Richardson (center) in "The Chaperone."

Louise Brooks came to New York in 1922 to be a star. But she didn't come alone. She came with a chaperone.

Hence "The Chaperone," a movie that works against itself by actively choosing to tell a less-interesting story than the obvious one in front of it. 

Louise, played by "Five Feet Apart's" Haley Lu Richardson, was a young dancer who traveled to the Big Apple to escape Wichita, Kansas and wound up lighting up the screen as a silent film star and trailblazing fashion trends with her iconic bob haircut.  

But alas, this is not her story. "The Chaperone" focuses on Norma (Elizabeth McGovern), the naive, small town housewife and mother who brings Brooks to the big city and ends up on her own journey of self-discovery.

Norma, who was adopted, visits the orphanage where she once resided in the hopes of tracking down her birth mother. She makes nice with the maintenance man (Géza Röhrig), while she flashes back to her marriage in Kansas (Campbell Scott plays her husband), which wasn't all it was cracked up to be. 

And that's fine, but can we get back to Louise? 

"The Chaperone" is like telling the Tiger Woods story by choosing to focus on his first caddy. Sure, it's a way in, but unless that caddy has a really good story, what are we doing here? 

"The Chaperone" comes from the "Downton Abbey" team of writer Julian Fellowes and director Michael Engler, and it has a made-for-TV look and feel to it. Richardson has a big smile and a devious look in her eye that hints at a darkness just below the surface of her Louise. It would be rich to explore it further, but unfortunately, that's not this movie. 

'The Chaperone'


Not rated: Sexual situations

Running time: 108 minutes