Cousin Bette (1998) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

A 19th century period piece - a bawdy sex chain (a loves b, b loves c, c loves d, etc) based upon a novel by Balzac.
It isn't easy to direct or perform 19th century sex farce. The 19th century was an age when newly emergent freedom allowed the middle and intellectual classes to cast an ever-broader net of social satire, in which every character might be an object of ridicule.

The successful presentation of this hinges on maintaining the correct tone when the characters speak ironically to each other, as well as when they make sincere comments that we viewers recognize to have additional ironic complications because of details which we know but they do not.

This stuff is difficult to act in because it's so unnatural. Think about it. Your beloved cousin, from whom you were expecting a marriage proposal, says "well, Bette, she doesn't need love. After all, you've gone your entire life without love and it hasn't done you any harm now, has it?" Now the camera goes to you and you have to make an appropriate facial expression without turning into Jerry Lewis or Gilligan.


Elisabeth Shue, as a performer in bawdy 19th century revues, showed her buns several times in several different stage costumes.

Some of her fellow performers also exposed their bums.

She also showed her breasts briefly as she posed for her sculptor/lover

Given that difficulty, I thought they pulled this off rather well.

The one weakness in presentation might be the lack of a true Gallic flavor in a work of a great French writer. Although the story takes place in France, we see French ambience, and the movie was filmed in France, the actors give no flavor of France at all. The three stars are Jessica Lange, Elisabeth Shue and Bob Hoskins, all of whom speak in their natural accents. If you don't see the buildings, you might think it takes place in London or Philadelphia. This really takes place in some undefined country somewhere. But I can't conclusively call that a weakness, because I don't see that it really matters where they are.

Jessica Lange is the focus of the film, Cousin Bette, and she is out for revenge on her own family for various affronts. When her pampered cousin dies, Jessica thinks that the widower has proposed marriage but he has actually only invited her to become his housekeeper. Then a bit later, when she falls in love with a starving artist, the artist is stolen away by her young and beautiful niece.

So she plots her manipulative revenge on all of them as well as her faithless artist, enlisting the aid of a beautiful actress, and manipulating the resources of the richest man in Paris (who was rejected by the young niece in favor of the handsome, but lazy and penniless artist).

DVD info from Amazon.

Not a strong DVD at all. There is a sharp 1.85:1 widescreen tint, but that's it except for the trailer.

Elisabeth Shue, as the actress, demonstrates some versatility in this film, in which she sings and does some quite athletic dances, and shows her bum rather often in several different costumes.

Great costumes, stylish period settings, and a certain lively flavor make this move pretty fast and deliver a few chuckles, even if it all amounts to nothing more than a bagatelle.


Jessica Lange stars in the title role as the cousin that had no advantages because her family "could only afford to push one girl forward." Her sister married a baron, and Bette was little more than a servant in their 1846 Paris household. The film opens with the death of Bette's cousin. Bette had always wanted the baron, and just when she thought he was going to propose, he actually offered her the job of housekeeper. At that point, Bette swore revenge on everyone who had wronged her, including her niece, a young sculptor, the baron, and his actress girlfriend (played by Elizabeth Sue).

The moral is, don't piss Cousin Bette off.

I am not usually fond of costumers, and I didn't mind this one, although I would have preferred a less leisurely pace.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: Two and a half to three stars. Maltin 2.5/4, Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4, Apollo 70.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.6.
  • With their dollars ... really nothing. A million domestic gross.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C (Tuna and Scoop). Adequate costumer in comedy/musical format.

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