Knightley and West are oozing with chemistry and it doesn’t take long to get completely swept up in what seems to be a very honest romance. She’s eager to be there for him and support his career, and he does make a concerted effort to support Colette and help her acclimate to the ritzy city scene. The heart and adoration there is palpable, so when work creeps into the equation, it’s easy to understand how Colette wound up in the complicated position of penning work under Willy’s name. Sure Willy gambles away a good deal of money and once even resorts to locking Colette in a room to force her to finish a book, but they’re a team of sorts – right? Knightly’s performance is so captivating and you’re so firmly in her shoes that by this point of the story, it’s easy to understand why significant red flags could be brushed aside.
As previously mentioned, Willy does some pretty terrible things but rather than paint him as a cookie cutter villain, writers Westmorland, Richard Glatzer and Rebecca Lenkiewicz give him so much complexity and depth that you can feel a disconnect, almost as if there’s something physically stopping him from understanding why he can’t keep getting away with this nonsense. It isn’t a matter of good triumphing over evil, but rather reassessing the one you once loved and coming to the conclusion that it’s hopeless.
It may sound like a weighty takeaway there, but Colette is still shockingly light on its feet. Knightley is a natural in the role and as Colette connects more and more to her self-worth and what she loves, Knightley gets a lot of room to play and seizes that opportunity big time. Much of the movie has an energetic and playful vibe, and it’s also loaded with whip-smart, sassy banter between Knightley and West. The lavish production design significantly contributes to how quickly you’re transported into the time period. Willy’s office in particular is a highly detailed location that feels truly used and lived in. The costume design is also incredibly striking and beautifully enhances Colette’s transformation throughout the film.
The movie is an undeniable winner. There are a small handful of moments when a little more access to Colette’s decision making process would have been welcomed and the same goes for additional screen time for Denise Gough as Missy (Mathilde de Morny), one of the first women to publicly identify as being a man. Gough stands out in the role from the moment she first appears on screen and for a movie that really takes its time fleshing out each and every stage of Colette’s journey, it’s unfortunate that this particular portion feels a bit rushed. But that only makes a minimal dent in an experience that’s a wildly entertaining romp with heart that features Keira Knightley relishing in every ounce of Colette’s passion, sauciness and ultimately, her confidence.
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