Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) may sound like a one-joke contrivance—a rich, generous, arts-loving heiress in 1940s New York City gives private recitals to a select group of high society insiders who never let on to the oblivious woman that she is quite possibly the worst singer to ever trod a stage—but it is both a true story and an unexpectedly tender, touching movie. And it’s quite funny to boot.
Meryl Streep, who is in fact a trained and talented vocalist, pulls off that most difficult of comic performances as Mrs. Jenkins. She glows with joy while her shrill tones are wretchedly off-key and at times off-the-charts while her husband St Clair (a warm and protective Hugh Grant) smiles in appreciation through her rehearsals. Her new practice pianist Cosmé (Simon Helberg, The Big Bang Theory) is dumbstruck during his inaugural session with Florence and Helberg’s performance is superb. He’s like a silent movie comic, looking on gobsmacked then contorting himself to keep from betraying his reaction when he sees that no one else is the least bit fazed. You can imagine everything running through his head as he plays away: are they putting him on? Are they putting her on? Can they even tell she’s wildly untalented? Just what has he gotten himself into, and is having a steady job worth it?
The Iron Lady (Anchor Bay), starring Meryl Streep as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, earned the actress her 17th Oscar nomination and her third Academy Award for her transformative portrayal, giving her performance more dimension than the film does.
The film surveys her life, bookending her early career and her reign as the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the 20th Century with a peek into her fragile state in her present-day retirement, focusing on the personal over the political. MSN film critic Glenn Kenny puts it more bluntly, describing the film as “almost altogether bald in its desire that the viewer not think about Margaret Thatcher, or her ideas, or her actions, and pretty relentless in its efforts to squelch thought while promoting pity, empathy and a little dread.”
“That the movie succeeds at all in doing the latter is almost entirely attributable to the acting work of Streep, who is remarkably precise, respectful and frequently quite witty in her portrayal.” Jim Broadbent co-stars as her husband Denis, Alexandra Roach and Harry Lloyd play the young Margaret and Denis, and Olivia Colman, Roger Allam, and Iain Glen co-star.
On Blu-ray and DVD, with the 12-minute featurette “The Making of The Iron Lady” and four mini-featurettes (“Recreating the Young Margaret Thatcher,” “Battle in the House of Commons,” “Costume Design: Pearls and Power Suits,” and “Denis: The Man Behind the Woman”). The Blu-ray Combo Pack also includes a bonus DVD and digital copy. Also available On Demand, and available at Rebox kiosks on both Blu-ray and DVD.
I review Doubt, John Patrick Shanley’s screen adaptation of his own play, at Parallax View.
With every review I read of Doubt, I get the nagging feeling that I’ve seen a different film. It’s certain that I’ve had a different experience. Doubt, John Patrick Shanley’s screen adaptation of his own play and the first film he has directed since Joe Versus the Volcano, continues to rumble through my mind because the ideas and conflicts left unresolved in the film are intelligently broached and resonantly framed within a palpable cultural context and vivid personal motivations. This is Shanley’s witch hunt play, his Crucible, with a very specifically American setting and the reverberations it carries. I never saw the stage production of John Patrick Shanley’s original play in any incarnation, let alone the Broadway run, and though I keep hearing the familiar chorus “It worked better on stage,” I wonder of having seen the stage play is preventing viewers from actually seeing the film.
While the cinema can be perfect for ambiguity, it is also a medium of concrete imagery and particular sense of certainty: it’s a mystery until the reveal, where we have the privileged view of seeing what happened, or at least seeing the evidence left behind and being provided an explanation that answers all questions. There is no such certainty in Doubt. It’s not Rashomon (everyone lies), it’s not Les Girls (everyone tells the truth in their own way, as Sarris so lovingly put it), and it’s certainly not The Thin Blue Line, Errol Morris’ brilliant documentary that “recreates” various testimonies to illustrate how great minor discrepancies can be. There are no conflicting witnesses here, there is no forensic evidence to sift, there isn’t an accusing victim, merely the suspicion of a criminal act and one person’s drive for justice (or at the very least protective action) in a system that (as we all know too well given recent revelations) is more concerned with self-preservation than self-policing.