Source: Hulu

Review: 'Becoming Karl Lagerfeld' Ambitious, Exquisite, and Flat

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 3 MIN.

The six-part French miniseries "Becoming Karl Lagerfeld" – a biopic of the famed gay designer – stars some major talent, with Daniel Brühl playing the title role and Théodore Pellerin (who also did smashing work in "Solo") cast as his ennui-afflicted writer boyfriend, Jacques de Bascher. Even so, things never spark to life – and not simply because of the sexless nature of Lagerfeld's relationship with de Bascher.

The pair meet in 1972, after Jacques catches a glimpse of Karl's high red boots at a Paris gay bar. In what was, back then, the equivalent of sliding into someone's DMs, Jacques pens a note to the already notable, but not-yet-majorly-famous designer, and, intrigued, Karl responds to the overture.

What follows is a decade of personal and professional chaos, with old entanglements endlessly complicating new ones. Karl and fellow Parisian designer Yves Saint Laurent (Arnaud Valois) were involved years before – until, that is, the hard-nosed and ruthless Pierre Bergé (Alex Lutz) broke them up (or so Karl claims). Now Pierre manages Yves' life and image, even as Yves struggles with mental health issues.

Karl seems to have a few issues of his own. Still living with his mother (Lisa Kreuzer, regal and icily magnificent), Karl has no qualms about bringing his new lover home with him, but not for any steamy nights of passion; no, Karl pours his passion into his design work and his resentment at not yet having received the kind of acclaim Yves does. Karl is still designing away for Gaby Aghion (Agnès Jaoui) at her house, Chloé, a purveyor of prêt-à-porter as opposed to the haute couture that Lagerfeld once rejected but now increasingly yearns to work in.

If Karl ever wants to really take a bite of anything, it's a pastry – and Brühl shows us the ferocity of Karl's ego as he noshes away in a number of scenes, most of them driven by frustration or humiliation. (Not since Anthony Hopkins' turn as The Master of Suspense in 2012's "Hitchcock" has rage eating burned up the screen like it does here.)

One major humiliation is the way Karl talks his way into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create an outfit for Marlene Dietrich (Sunnyi Melles), only to design himself out of a job by attempting to dress her in something she loathes. Other frustrations center around Jacques' behavior. Spoiled by Karl, who pays his bills, and bored, the writer cannot set so much as a word to paper, and he soon starts acting out accordingly, with drunken debauches and an ill-advised affair that creates a great deal of emotional carnage for everyone concerned.

The production design is splendid (though sometimes feels a little cheap, as when we hear the reactions to a groundbreaking fashion show designed by a young up-and-comer, and see the looks of rapture (or horror) on the faces of those who have just been to the show... but don't glimpse the show itself.

The series' limitations aren't restricted to grandiose elements. Intimate, emotionally driven moments also feel like they are short-changed. That's not to say we don't get tender exchanges, along with angry ones and sexy ones; we do, and some of them land. Many such scenes, though, don't summon the force they need to make us feel along with the characters. Something's off with the pacing and the tone, and the storylines have a sloppy cut-and-paste quality about them. If this were a suit or a dress rather than a TV project, it would look great... but it would hang strangely on one's frame, feeling weirdly stitched together.

"Becoming Karl Lagerfeld" is streaming now on Hulu. In French with subtitles.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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