Florence Foster Jenkins
Meryl Streep plays Florence Foster Jenkins, a real life wannabe opera singer, who in the early part of the 20th Century had the money to finance her own career but not the talent to sustain it. The New York Post named her "The world's worst singer."
Florence Foster Jenkins was a wealthy socialite who lived in the first part of the 20th century (I reviewed a biography of her in my July 29 post). She was born into a wealthy family and at the age of seven was a skilled pianist. That started her love of music. When she grew older, she wanted to continue her piano studies abroad but her father did not approve so she ran off and eloped with Frank Jenkins, a doctor. However, when she learned she had contracted syphilis from him, she divorced him and supported herself in New York City giving piano lessons until her father died and she inherited a large trust which allowed her to continue to pursue her love of music.
Florence loved music so much that she started the Verdi Club where she financed musical soirees highlighting musicians and singers of the day. The club also served as a platform for her own operatic performances as well, because she aspired to be an opera singer. The only problem was that she couldn't sing. Her caterwauling and over-the-top costumes (her "Angel of Inspiration" costume, wings and all, was a particular favorite) became renown and her concerts sold out mostly because they were so amusing. People would attend and stuff handkerchiefs in their mouths to keep from laughing. However her philanthropic work so endeared her to the musical community that no one had the heart to tell her she couldn't sing, not to mention the worry that her money might not flow as easily their way.
Florence met Englishman St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), a failed Shakespearean actor who became her manager and was devoted to her (and, no doubt, her money as well). Their relationship was like a marriage, though Bayfield also had mistresses. He managed her career which was capped off by a performance at Carnegie Hall, which Florence financed herself.
Those are the basic facts of Florence Foster Jenkins' life, and I apprise you of them because it will be helpful to you, because this film begins at the end of Florence's life and centers around that famous Carnegie Hall performance. The facts of her life prior to that are only briefly touched upon, and it can be confusing at times when certain facts are thrown out there without any context.
As I said, I had read a biography about her prior to seeing the film, so I was familiar with her life story, but even I was confused at times. Despite feeding us snippets of information, there is not much explanation about why Jenkins thought she could sing, her relationship with St. Clair, her syphilis, what the Verdi Club was all about or anything else. So I highly recommend reading a biography about her before you see the film.
But all of that aside, Streep is magnificent as usual as Florence. We know Meryl can sing, so it was probably not that easy for her to sing badly. It's great to see Grant again playing Florence's devoted sort-of husband, St. Clair Bayfield, who pays well for people to keep quiet about Florence's lack of talent. Hugh hasn't been around in films much lately and I have missed him. He is a charming screen presence. His part is not as flashy as Streep's, but he is essential to the story and his performance is equal to hers. The chemistry between the two of them is believable despite the unusual relationship between Florence and St. Clair.
However, the script by Nicolas Martin took too much dramatic license and didn't seem to know if it was a comedy or a drama. I guess you could call this film a dramedy. It's a poignant story but then goes for laughs when Florence sings. There were also some odd scenes that were jarring e.g. a rich music lover takes his decidedly younger and decidedly classless girlfriend to one of Florence's concerts, and though everyone else was either doddering and tone deaf or in Florence's camp to the tune of ignoring her bad notes, the girl starts to laugh. She not only laughs but laughs so hard that she falls on the ground and has to crawl out of the theatre. Not believable and doesn't fit the scene at all.
Likewise, dramatic license was taken when Florence plays Carnegie Hall and there is chaos when she starts to sing. That same classless girl suddenly feels for Florence, stands up and tells the audience to shut up and "give the girl a chance," a scenario that I don't believe ever happened but was included to give us some drama. That kind of a scene is also a huge cliché. In reality, yes, people went to her concerts to laugh but usually stifled themselves and what was not conveyed in the film was that Florence was such a charming woman, so beloved, that no one had the heart to mock her, not even most critics.
Simon Helberg as Cosme McMoon, Florence's loyal accompanist, is a popular member of the hit TV show "The Big Bang Theory," but here acts more like Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz," all jittery and bug-eyed and again, there is a rather unbelievable pro-longed laughing fit he succumbs to in the elevator after hearing Florence sing for the first time. I didn't get his performance at all.
Directed by Stephen Frears who has directed some wonderful films ("Philomena," "The Queen," "My Beautiful Laundrette"), I wish he hadn't decided to go for laughs.
Rosy the Reviewer says...what could have been a charming film disappoints at times but see it for Streep. This is an Academy Award nomination worthy performance.
***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!
Now on DVD
Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot) is a rich 1920's society matron who wants to be an opera singer. The only problem is, she can't sing. Sound familiar?
Though the new Meryl Streep film "Florence Foster Jenkins (see review above)" is getting good reviews and all of the attention, this little French film was the first to get on the Florence Foster Jenkins bandwagon, though the names were changed to protect the guilty. However, it wasn't much seen by American audiences, it being in French and all (though it won many awards in France), thus paving the way for Meryl. It was fun watching these two films in the same week and comparing them. I highly recommend it.
What's the same?
- A rich music lover wants to be an opera singer, except she can't sing. But her philanthropic generosity keeps the charade going. No one has the heart to laugh at her or tell her she can't sing.
- She finances her own concerts and her loyal butler (Denis Mpunga) makes sure she doesn't see any bad reviews (in Meryl's film, Bayfield takes on that role)
- She wears outrageous costumes when she performs
- She is delusional about her talent
- She founded a club so she could perform (in this film it's called The Amadeus Club)
- She hires a hall for one last big blast of a concert
- She lives for music
- Her husband is a philanderer
- Everyone flatters and uses her for her money
- The endings for both films went off the rails a bit.
- No mention of Florence Foster Jenkins except at the beginning of the film where it says "Inspired by a true story."
- Whereas "Florence Foster Jenkins" plays for laughs, this film plays it straight.
- Frot does a better job of singing badly.
- Marguerite's husband, Georges (Andre Marcon), is not the doting husband that St. Clair is portrayed as in "Florence Foster Jenkins." In fact he is embarrassed by his wife's performances.
- Marguerite is not portrayed as a nutty or frail woman like Florence
- Instead of the husband paying people to review her well or continuing the charade, it's the butler.
- This one is in French with English subtitles
Because of the intrinsic comedy in bad singing, it's easy to play the character for laughs as Streep did to a certain extent, so kudos to Frot for playing it straight, thus creating a more real and sympathetic character and kudos to director and writer Xavier Giannoli for maintaining an even hand. Though Streep definitely evokes poignancy in the scenes where she is not singing, this actress imbues Marguerite with a sensitivity that makes you root for her rather than laugh at her, even when her singing is driving you crazy.
Rosy the Reviewer says...though I thought Streep and Grant did outstanding jobs in "Florence Foster Jenkins," overall I actually enjoyed this film more.
(In French with English subtitles)
The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir (2014)
Jerry Garcia was clearly the star of The Grateful Dead. Bob Weir was "the other one."
Netflix produced films have been competitive with theatrical releases and this one is no exception. It's a wonderful documentary about the life of Bob Weir, the Grateful Dead's other guitarist.
I was never much of a Grateful Dead fan, probably because when I first moved to San Francisco in 1970 right after college, it seemed they were playing everywhere. Their album, "Workingman's Dead" was also played constantly by the many friends of my husband who came to visit, so I quickly got sick of them. I also viewed the Grateful Dead as a band that "talked" more to a man's sensibilities than a woman's, so I never jumped on that, er, bandwagon.
Bob Weir was only 16 when he met Jerry Garcia and formed a band that would eventually become the Grateful Dead. Born in San Francisco in 1947 he was adopted at birth by affluent Atherton, California parents. Garcia and Weir met at a music store on New Year's Eve and they founded the band The Warlocks. Weir was a free spirit who took LSD every Saturday, ran off with The Merry Pranksters, hung out with Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady and the band became the house band for the "acid tests."
Weir was not only "the other one," he was also "the cute one," so he cut quite a swath with the ladies. Jerry got all of the musical glory, but Weir played innovative chord structures that supported Jerry's lead guitar playing. No two shows were every alike as the two would go off on musical tangents. The band was known for amazing kick-ass shows or going off the rails completely. There seemed to be no in between. Must have been all of those drugs.
The song "Touch of Grey" finally brought them into the mainstream but by the late 80's Jerry had become a cultish musical icon and succumbed to drugs.
Directed by Mike Fleiss, the film makes the case that Jerry Garcia was a legend but Weir was a star in his own right but never quite got the respect he deserved. Many musicians weigh in and concur. Now he's a 69 year old man reveling in a life well-lived and reflecting on it.
"I haven't put a lot of thought into my legacy. I'm not proud of anything...I don't trust pride. If I am proud of anything, I have to take a good look at myself for being proud. Life has endless depth to it.. [I'm] looking for the timeless. That's what I'm chasing."
Baby Boomers, how 60's is THAT?!
Speaking of the 60's, remember that old quote attributed to Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane? "If you can remember anything about the 60's, you really weren't there."
For those of us who were really there, this film is a nice reminder.
Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are a Deadhead, you will definitely want to see this film, but if you like documentaries and can't remember the 60's, you will also enjoy this.
***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***
240 to go!
Have YOU seen this classic film?
Dead Man (1995)
Accountant William Blake (not to be confused with the poet - but more on that later) sets out from Cleveland to the Wild West to start a new life only to find himself wanted for murder.
It's the 1800's and unassuming accountant, William Blake (Johnny Depp), moves out West to the town of Machine where he discovers his promised new job at The Dickinson Steel Works has been taken by someone else. This is not a good thing because William's parents have died and he has spent his last bit of money to make this trip.
Machine is not a particularly hospitable place. The people who populate this town make "The Hateful Eight" look like characters in a drawing room comedy. He encounters a prostitute who takes him back to her place but when her boyfriend (Gabriel Byrne) shows up, he shoots her and William shoots him. William high tails it out of town. Turns out the boyfriend was the son of John Dickinson (Robert Mitchum in his last role before his death - and he looks like he is on death's door), the wealthy owner of the town's metal works and de facto guy who runs the town, and he hires three bounty hunters, who are more like The Three Stooges with a touch of Monty Python thrown in, to go after Blake and kill him.
William had been wounded in the shoot-out and when he wakes up he finds himself in the company of a Native American who calls himself "Nobody (Gary Farmer)," which leads to all kinds of funny wordplay reminiscent of "Who's on First?" And turns out that Nobody is a big fan of William Blake's poetry and quotes freely from his works. Nobody actually does mistake our hero for the poet.
"Some are born to sweet delight/
Some are born to endless night."
Since the film begins with the quote "It is preferable not to travel with a dead man (Andre Michaux)," we know our William's days are numbered.
Interesting moment: When William finds a loaded gun under the pillow of the prostitute's bed he asks her, "Why do you have this?" to which she replies, "Because this is America."
No truer words have been spoken.
As William tries to escape capture, violence and death ensues.
Who knew that making a move to a new town to change one's life could result in so many deaths?
But I have to add, ironically, it's lots of fun!
Johnny Depp has almost become synonymous with strange edgy characters and director Jim Jarmusch is known for his strange edgy films, so the two are a good fit. It's a young Johnny Depp starring here, only a couple of years after he hit it big with "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" I almost thought this film started him on the road of the strange characters he continued to play, often belying his good looks, but he had already done "Edward Scissorhands." Of course, it being a Jim Jarmusch film, Johnny's strange character is the least of them. Everyone in this film is strange indeed. He is joined by Iggy Pop inexplicably wearing a dress, Crispin Glover with his face covered in soot, a long-haired John Hurt, Alfred Molina as a strange priest, Billy Bob Thorton talking about beans, Mitchum and others.
In the town of Machine, it's name a rather obvious clue,there is a sense of the film "Metropolis," where man is just a cog in a machine over which he has no control. Here, William is our hapless hero who finds himself out of his comfort zone and is pulled along through the fate of circumstance. Depp is almost Chaplinesque in his pork pie hat and plaid suit, and his William is a bit like a Western version of Candide, an innocent out of his element in a cruel world.. There is no doubt that Depp is a compelling screen presence, because from the start of the film, you can't take your eyes off of him. And Jarmusch must think so, too, because he frames him nicely in juicy close-ups. Depp's performance is outstanding and he is at his handsomest, but mostly plays straight man to the other eccentric characters.
Written and directed by Jarmusch with music scored and performed by Neil Young and shot in moody black and white by cinematographer Robby Muller, this is a very watchable and fun film, but it's also multi-layered as Jarmusch's films usually are. Here you have the character named William Blake, a Native American quoting the poet William Blake's poetry and you have a poetic, spiritual story. I have been a Jim Jarmusch fan ever since "Stranger than Paradise," and I am always amazed at the interesting stories he comes up with and the actors he gets to play small parts in telling those stories. But if you are not used to his films, know they move slowly. But if you can hang in there, you will be rewarded by a film experience like no other.
Why it's a Must See: "An essay on contemplation, [this film] charms through Robby Muller's black-and-white cinematography (influenced by Ansel Adams), the exquisitely simple guitar score by Neil Young, and Depp's gentle performance poetry..."
-"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
Zach Campbell from Slant Magazine said in 2004, " 'Dead Man' is likely Jim Jarmusch's most stunning achievement...He tears down one mythopoetic image of [the]West and in its place resurrects his own."
Rosy the Reviewer says...a Jim Jarmusch film is always an exquisite experience.
***Book of the Week***
It's Not OK: Turning Heartbreak into Happily Never After by Andi Dorfman (2016)
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
And this book is full of fury! Part inside scoop on what really goes on behind the scenes and after on "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," and part break-up story with hard learned advice on how to mend a broken heart.
It's no secret to my readers that I watch "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." Feel superior all you want. I am sure you have your guilty pleasures too. But I do admit, there is no reality show I am too snobbish to watch, or at least try. I admit it. And I haven't missed a season of "The Bachelor" or "The Bachelorette," despite my attempts to rid myself of this never-ending albatross that tests my suspension of disbelief at every turn, and neither has Hubby, though he always says he feels dirty after.
Andi Dorfman was on "The Bachelor" when Juan Pablo was "The Guy," and she went quite far on the show until he pissed her off. You see, Andi is an attorney and does not suffer fools. She did not give Juan Pablo any slack on "The Bachelor," and she doesn't give him any slack in her book either.
But this book isn't really about Juan Pablo or her stint on "The Bachelor," as much as it's about her stint as "The Bachelorette" and finding true love...or so she thought. So just so you are with me... Andi was one of the contestants on "The Bachelor" who did not win that guy, but was then chosen to star as "The Bachelorette." That's how those two shows work. One of the contestants who does not win "The Bachelor" or "The Bachelorette" goes on to get his or her show and becomes "The Bachelor" or "The Bachelorette." Still with me?
The title of the book not only refers to Andi's broken relationship with Josh Murray, the guy she chose on "The Bachelorette," but to Juan Pablo's automatic response to everything, good or bad: "It's OK." And she is right. It was incredibly annoying. She shares her experiences on both shows. Fans of the show will rejoice in the tidbits she shares about the show and what REALLY goes on.
As for the break-up story, she and Josh (she actually can't even bring herself to say his name. She calls him Number 26 because he was not only the last guy standing out of the bachelors presented for her to choose from, but was the last guy out of the limos at the beginning of the show) really were in love unlike so many Bachelors and Bachelorettes who came before, but like those same folks, perhaps falling in love in six weeks doesn't work out in the end and that's what happened to Andi and Josh. They broke up.
And Andi is PISSED OFF!
In diary form, Andi shares her recent break-up with Josh and shares what she learned about heartbreak e.g. it's OK to have a pity party for yourself for awhile; it's OK to drink lots of wine; and burning his stuff can be cathartic. She also shares details of their romance that I would think would make Josh cringe. She pulls no punches in telling us exactly what a slime ball she thinks he is, though she admits to not heeding the warning signs when Josh started turning from Mr. Right to Mr. Wrong. Ladies, don't we all do that?
When she talks about the fantasy of "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," I am reminded of a break-up book I read back when I was facing my own heartbreak. I can't remember the title now, but basically it said that it's easy to think you have fallen in love when you first meet someone because both of you are trying to make a good impression and find common ground. You think everything that you have in common is a sign that this is the one. For example, you both like the color blue. Well, who doesn't? You both love ice cream. Most people do, etc. You are looking for those things you both like and turning a blind eye to those things that you don't agree on. And that's how you fall in love on "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." So when Andi talks about The Fantasy Suite, she ends the chapter by saying "It's called a fantasy for a reason."
When I saw Andi on talk shows touting this book, I decided to take a look with every intention of just shuffling through it at the gym while on the elliptical. As I have admitted in the past, I enjoy a bit of celebrity gossip from time to time and wanted some inside stories about "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette, but I really didn't really care that much about her.
Well, let me tell you, I was wrong. I couldn't put this thing down.
She not only gives all of the details of what it was like to audition to be on "The Bachelor," she also answers our questions about the show:
- Is there really a lot of drinking? Yes
- Does hanky-panky really occur in the fantasy suite? Yes
- Are you using a teleprompter when you give that long speech at the end to the one you choose and don't choose? Apparently not, because she talks at length about memorizing her speech.
- Are those your clothes that you wear during the show? Yes and no.
She also gives us day-by-day of her recovery from the break-up and all of the details of the disintegration of their relationship until she finally says
"...no matter how bad it gets, no matter how tumultuous and painful the end of a relationship can be, no matter how much you think your life is over and you are forever damaged, there comes a moment when you find that storm has finally passed...It's the moment where you look at the scar that came from heartbreak, and see it not as a scar of weakness but as a scar of resiliency and strength. It's the moment when you finally realize that maybe, just maybe it IS okay."
Uh, OK, Andi. Profound.
But, pssst, I wonder how she felt about Josh looking for love recently on the TV show "Famously Single" and making out with Amanda right this minute on "Bachelor in Paradise," a show that allows ABC to recycle the losers from previous "Bachelor" and "Bachelorette" shows. Yes, people, I feel a certain amount of shame for knowing all about that...but not much.
Sometimes you just have to set aside the Camus and Dostoevsky and give your brain a rest with someone else's real life soap opera so you can forget your own!
Rosy the Reviewer says...if you "Bachelor/Bachelorette" fans want some juicy stuff, this does not disappoint.
That's it for this week!
Thanks for reading!
See you Tuesday for
"Thomas Wolfe Was Right:
You Can't Go Home Again"
If you enjoyed this post, feel free to copy and paste or click on the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, email it to your friends and LIKE me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rosythereviewer
Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.
Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database).
Go to IMDB.com, find the movie you are interested in. Once there, click on the link that says "Explore More" on the right side of the screen. Scroll down to External Reviews and when you get to that page, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.
NOTE: On some entries, this has changed. If you don't see "Explore More" on the right side of the screen, scroll down just below the description of the film in the middle of the page. Click where it says "Critics." Look for "Rosy the Reviewer" on the list.
Or if you are using a mobile device, look for "Critics Reviews." Click on that and you will find me alphabetically under "Rosy the Reviewer."