– Meryl Streep does it again in this charming costume comedy, while two excellent male leads pull off a brutal new WW2 film.
Based on the life of the outrageously tone deaf socialite, Florence Foster Jenkins stars Meryl Streep in an interesting choice for her, a performance where she can’t sing.
While Streep has carved out a good career in musicals and other sing-heavy performances, here she decides to go to a very new level, clearly not caring very much about self preservation. She stars as the title character, where a terminally ill Ms. Jenkins begins taking vocal courses alongside pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) to prepare for what she feels is a legitimate performance for exposure. Her domestic partner, the English St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) has protected Florence and her accessibility from outside sources, but he ends up at a crossroads with her wanting to play in one of New York’s most famous venues: Carnegie Hall.
The film is one of wry amusement, strong performances, and also pity, where we’re not quite sure how to feel about Madam Jenkins. It seems, occasionally, like she is self-aware about her diminished singing ability, but at other times, she speaks as a professional with authoritative ease. This may seem inconsequential, but it allows for the film to make the singing very comical throughout its entirety, because every time we consider Florence being a true musician due to the movie’s pace, we immediately begin the hysterics that result from her musicianship. We can’t feel that bad for her because of some bad press, also…she’s making loads of money and becomes one of the most famous classical-genre singers in New York.
Most interestingly, however, it’s the partnership between Jenkins and Bayfield that acts as the film’s heart. With Jenkins being terminally ill, her and Bayfield do not have a physical relationship at all. Their love comes from companionship and respect, so when he heads out at night to see his mistress (Rebecca Ferguson), we forgive him due to the bizarre arrangement that he and Florence have. Rather than be the typical unsupporting husband, Bayfield comes through again and again, centering around a very anchored and nuanced Hugh Grant performance. He hasn’t been this good in years. Streep, as usual, acts the hell out of this movie. What is there even to talk about? She takes a complicated character and lays it down like it’s fluff work for her with extreme comfort.
Directed with a flair for the imaginative and exaggerated by Stephen Frears, the film does mix a heady portion of costume drama with stuffy British-style humor, but for every second of dryness or gag rendering, it delivers on an equally emotional one either dramatically or romantically. It really is an exercise in expansive and comfortable film-making. Perhaps it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it was nice to get a Biopic that was so light in tone while keeping the solid performances and dramatic heft.
Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
Director: Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, Philomena, The Queen)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, and John Kavanagh
RT Score: 87%
As for Anthropoid, you may not have heard of this film, but because I’m a big fan of Jamie Dornan, I decided to check this out despite mixed reception.
It details “operation anthropoid,” set in the World War II backdrop of Czechoslovakia, where the nation is fresh into its Nazi Occupation due to the Munich Agreement. With its laborers and general citizens being terrorized by third-in-command Nazi Reinhard Heydrich, two agents (Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan) from the rebellious “government in exile” attempt to assassinate Heydrich with the help of remaining loyalists to the original Czech sovereignty.
The film certainly has its share of intrigue, where there are two strained issues that the movie attempts to resolve: the first is that many people within the rebellion worry about the final implications of assassinating Heydrich, as it could bring down even more wrath on Czech citizenry, so there are institutional hold-ups for our agents, but there is also the second issue, that of Jamie Dornan’s Jan Kubis being unable to kill people who haven’t directly wronged him. We see both conflicts planted extremely early on, when Jan and Murphy’s Josef are betrayed by Czech citizens you would expect to support them, and when Jan is unable to kill a fleeing man with his back turned. The humanity of the characters, and strong relationships they develop with both men and women inside their planning headquarters drives the film, especially when preparing the audience for a fantastic final twenty minutes to this journey. In terms of set up leading to payoff, director Sean Ellis did a fabulous job.
Toward the middle of the film, however, there are several hold-ups. The film struggles from a pace that exceedingly drags, sometimes bringing in romantic subplots that should never be in the film, and could be cut out without a single damage to the final product. Furthermore, in any film where we sit and wait for our leads to act, there’s a prevailing sense of boredom in waiting for the actual plan to take place. This is not a film that expertly crafts the build-up. In fact, it sizzles for its first half-hour before going pretty blank for the middle hour. There is certainly some predictability to certain characters that could’ve been disguised a little easier as well.
Much of this is forgiven, however, against the final sequence. I won’t spoil it, except for saying it’s very action heavy, and the tension that this movie picks up gets extremely legitimate. It’s always annoying when a hit and miss film delivers one of your favorite scenes of the year, but this is one. We’ll see if I have a more consolidated view of it before making my year end list for best films, because there’s a lot to appreciate here. The two leads, also, are phenomenal, inserting themselves into these Slovak characters with intensity (great accents, also, if that’s something you care about), and Cillian Murphy does the kind of work that makes him so menacing and charismatic simultaneously. Dornan also gives his most emotionally expressive performance that we’ve seen, and he does really well with the physical action, as well, again proving that he’s worth every shade of grey there is, maybe not just fifty. He’s currently promoting this, as well as the return of BBC’s “The Fall,” which I highly recommend if you need convincing that he’s a great actor.
Director: Sean Ellis (The Broken, Metro Manilla)
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Charlotte LeBon, Anna Geislerova, and Harry Lloyd
RT Score: 58%