Perpetuating little white lies is part of everyday life and keeps society ticking over. But to what point is it acceptable to massage an ego with a dirty black lie. A real whopper. And is such a lie perpetuated by love? Greed? Or the pursuit of personal glory? This is the rather subtle sub-text behind the story of Florence Foster Jenkins.
Based on a true story, Florence Foster Jenkins tells the story of a truly awful singer (Meryl Streep), cossetted in her closed world of a 1944 New York hotel and pampered by her husband St Clair Mayfield (Hugh Grant), who is otherwise entwined with the sensuous Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson). Together with ex-actor Mayfield, the wealthy Florence is the co-star of the show at her self-owned "Verdi Club" where she has a non-speaking role enacting various 'tableau' scenes. But in the interests of following her dreams she recruits the help of famous singing instructor Carlo Edwards (the marvellous David Haig) and an enthusiastic and personable young pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg, "The Big Bang Theory"). Carlo is aware of what he is in for (he wants to keep the arrangement 'on the quiet'); Cosme is not (to great comic effect).
This classic re-telling of 'The Emperor's New Clothes' ultimately takes us on a journey to a packed concert at the Carnegie Hall, where many of the tickets have been given away to rowdy and drunk servicemen.
It's impossible to describe a film as "delightful just delightful" without hearing the velvety tones of Hugh Grant saying those words. But that's what it is. A treat of moving and at times wildly funny storytelling from director Stephen Frears ("Philomena", "The Queen") that just works from beginning to end.
Meryl Streep is just glorious in the titular role, oozing charm. Those UK readers will probably fondly remember the piano playing 'skills' of the late, great comedian Les Dawson (google it for a youtube clip) who had to be an absolutely brilliant pianist to be able to deliberately play so badly. In a similar way, we know (from the likes of "Mamma Mia") that Streep knows how to belt out a good tune, so it requires some considerable skill to deliver Florence's songs as well (or as badly) as she does. Bravo Ms Streep, Bravo!
And Hugh Grant is often quite unfairly criticized for playing Hugh Grant in every movie (as if Tom Hanks and Harrison Ford are much different?), but here he turns in a totally sterling performance. The drivers behind Mayfield's character are never totally clear (and I won't spoil that here), but in the final reel the motivating factor becomes crystal clear, and Grant has never been better. (Bravo Mr Grant, Bravo!).
To round off the accolades for the lead performances, Simon Helberg turns in a genius comic performance as the goggle-eyed pianist, who lights up every scene he's in and delivers his lines (e.g. one about a naval encounter) with perfect comic timing.
Shining again in a supporting role is Rebecca Ferguson ("Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation") who once again is dazzling. Among the bright young acting newcomers of the likes of Vikander and Rooney, Ferguson (who is approaching her mid-30s) brings a level of sophisticated glamour and maturity to the screen that is strongly reminiscent of the great starlets of the 1940's and 50's like Kathrine Hepburn or Lana Turner. She is fast becoming one of my favourite actresses. Also worthy of note is Nina Arianda as gold- digging starlet Agnes Stark – effectively playing (at least at first) the "little boy in the crowd" in the Emperor's fable.
Written by TV-writer Nicholas Martin in his big-screen debut, the story is slowly and subtly unwoven, only progressively revealing the plot points in an intelligent manner. Other screenwriters take note: this is how to do it.
Cinematography is by the great Danny Cohen ("The Danish Girl"; "Room") and with the Production Design, Costuming and Special effects crew 1940's New York is vibrantly brought to life.
While the film's leisurely pace might make the younger set fidgety, this is a treat particularly for older viewers looking for a great night out at the cinema. The film got a good old-fashioned round of applause at my showing when the credits came up. "Delightful just delightful". Go see it.
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