It’s 1922, and 16-year-old Louise Brooks, “the best dancer in Wichita,” has been accepted into the DenisShawn School of Dance in New York City for the summer. A star-in-the-making, Louise needs a chaperone, and local matron Norma Carlisle volunteers. She has her reasons, which soon become clear. Adopted by Kansas farmers after riding an Orphan Train from NYC, she wants to search for her past.
Louise would go on to a major career in silent films and become a flapper icon whose bob haircut became the Jazz Age rage. She roared in the ‘20s and ‘30s but retired in 1938. This is only the beginning of her journey.
Inspired by true events, a team from “Downton Abbey” impeccably crafts period details while Elizabeth McGovern and Haley Lu Richardson, as Norma and Louise, are engaging in this interesting peek into the beginnings of one of the first style icons – and independent women – of the 20th Century.
Writer Julian Fellowes, Oscar winner for the “Gosford Park” screenplay besides his “Downton Abbey” pedigree, and director Michael Engler, veteran of “Sex and the City” as well, know how to craft stories from a female perspective.
The movie’s focus really is the chaperone (hence the title), and we learn of her troubled marriage (Campbell Scott) and her past that she’s trying to piece together, with the help of the Home for Friendless Girls’ kindly custodian (Geza Rohrig, lead in “Son of Saul”).
She must corral live-wire Louise, a Kansas teen eager to live out her dream. More about Louise, aka “Lulu in Hollywood,” would have been good, but then, that’s another movie entirely.
Of note regarding this sweet little journey of self-discovery: PBS Masterpiece produced it, so after its theatrical run, it will be broadcast on PBS and made available for streaming later this spring.
This film has more substance than first appears. And, if anything, provides a fascinating glimpse into the screen siren whose 17 silent pictures include “Pandora’s Box” and “Diary of a Lost Girl.”