Although this comedy-drama seems to have been written specifically to give Meryl Streep a chance to dress up and put on a silly show, it's actually all true. And it's hugely entertaining, generating gut-wrenching laughter and some sharply resonant emotions too. It's also a subtle exploration of pop culture, most notably privileged artists and the fact that there's more to stardom than just talent.
Streep shines as Florence, a socialite who hosts lavish parties in 1944 New York with her husband St Clair (Hugh Grant). Both of them are frustrated artists: Florence sees herself as an opera diva, while St Clair never quite made it as an actor. So at her parties, Florence puts on performances for her friends, oblivious to the fact that she's riotously off-key, while St Clair plays the doting husband, protecting her from criticism and hiring talented young pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) as her accompanist. Florence doesn't really mind that St Clair has a woman (Rebecca Ferguson) on the side. But when she books Carnegie Hall to perform a concert for troops returning from Europe, St Clair realises that he can't protect her from a real audience.
Writer Nicholas Martin and director Stephen Frears construct the story beautifully, building up to reveal Florence's voice in a painfully hilarious sequence that's expertly played by Streep, Grant and Helberg. Streep's enjoyment of the role is infectious, and she makes Florence sympathetic by letting us see her yearning to sing. She imagines she sounds like her operatic idols, so can't hear the strangled notes coming from her mouth. And those who don't applaud are laughing so heartily that surely they're just as entertained. Streep's performance soars through the performance scenes, but is just as powerful in the comedy and at moments when Florence is vulnerable and nervous.
Continue reading: Florence Foster Jenkins Review
Even though it's made in a style that feels familiar, this World War II romantic drama takes a much more complex approach to the period, most notably in the way that it refuses to let anyone become a hero or villain. This is because author Irene Nemirovsky wrote the source novel at the time, not in retrospect, which gives it an unusual kick. And the film also benefits from an extraordinarily textured performance by Michelle Williams.
She plays Lucille, who in 1940 is living in the French country town of Bussy with her mother-in-law Madame Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas). Since her husband is missing in action at the front, Lucille is feeling trapped in her life with the madame, who cruelly increases her poor-farmer tenants' rent even during these hard times. Then the Germans arrive to occupy the town, and officer Bruno (Matthias Schoenaerts) is billeted in their house. Initially a horrific presence, Bruno turns out to be a soulful young man who misses his family. As he composes music on Lucille's piano, she reaches out to him in friendship, surprised to find a spark of attraction. But things get more complicated when Lucille and the madame begin to help a neighbour (Sam Riley) who crosses the Germans and needs to be hidden from view.
Director Saul Dibb (The Duchess) shoots this in a fairly straightforward costume-drama style, with sun-dappled cinematography and lavish settings. But the film rises above the genre in the characters, who are never allowed to become the usual stereotypes. Both Lucille and Bruno are intelligent young people aware that they're in the wrong place at the wrong time, so it's hardly surprising that they are drawn to each other, and Williams and Schoenaerts spark vivid chemistry that never boils over into forbidden-love melodrama. Each of them is a bundle of contradictions, remaining sympathetic even when they make bad decisions. And Scott Thomas adds further texture as the harsh madame who reveals her own unexpected shadings.
Continue reading: Suite Francaise Review
In Kinsey, writer/director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) makes all this into a divertingly fresh story about a scientific crusader who was just too honest and inquisitive for his own good. But rather than taking a straightforward biographical approach, Condon fortunately makes the film a character study of Kinsey himself, wisely placing star Liam Neeson front and center. The film opens in black and white, Neeson quizzing his researchers on how best to interview a subject for the study. He's forthright, strong-willed and oddly provocative - you'd give up your life story to this guy in about ten seconds.
Continue reading: Kinsey Review
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