Tag Archives: Meryl Streep

High Notes

Meryl Streep Gives Moving Musical Performance in ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS

Florence Foster Jenkins
Starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant & Simon Helberg
Directed by Stephen Frears
PG-13

“I’ve got the music in me,” proclaimed singer Kiki Dee in her pumping, thumping Top 20 hit of 1974. “I’ve got the music in me, I’ve got the music in me!”

Some three decades before Kiki Dee, another singer made a similar proclamation, when matronly New York City socialite Florence Foster Jenkins was filled with a lifelong, over-abundant love of music—but a serious lack of talent.

Director Stephen Frears, whose resume also includes The Queen, Philomena and Dangerous Liasons, brings Jenkins’ quirky story to the screen with humor as well as heart, never crossing over into camp or parody in a tale that certainly couldn’t gone there. Meryl Streep has proven she can indeed sing, and quite well—in Mamma Mia!, Into the Woods and Ricki and the Flash—which makes her enthusiastic off-key yelping, peeping and squawking as Florence all the more of a marvel.

After a big-screen, major-role absence of several years, it’s good to see Hugh Grant back. He’s terrific as Florence’s common-law husband, St Clair Bayfield, who loves her dearly and shields her from “mockers and scoffers” by bribing newspaper critics and making sure audiences at her concerts are packed with friends and supporters.

Simon Helberg

Simon Helberg

Simon Helberg (Howard Wolowitz on TV’s The Big Bang Theory) has a major role as Jenkins’ young piano accompanist, Cosme McMoon. At first incredulous at her ineptitude, McMoon later comes—as we do—to admire and respect Jenkins’ childlike innocence and the purity of her desire to share music with others in the “profound communion” of performance.

The movie takes its basic setup—a biopic of a pop-cultural footnote character—and fleshes it out in engrossing detail. We see the tremendous lengths to which Bayfield and others in Florence’s elite social circle go to protect—and enable—her. Florence’s vocal coach uses phrases like “You’ve never sounded better” and “There is no one quite like you” to avoid hurting her feelings and pointing out her clear shortcomings.

Bayfield’s long-term relationship with a mistress (Rebecca Ferguson) is strained by his equal devotion to Florence. “It’s complicated,” he tells McMoon. And indeed it is. We learn the heartbreaking reason Florence and Bayfield never married, never had children and never had a “real” marriage—and how Florence’s doomed first marriage, when she was 18, left her devastated and damaged, in more ways than one.

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINSWe learn of the tragic medical condition—and its toxic treatments—that may have led to some, or many, of Florence’s oddball behaviors, phobias or even delusions.

But mostly we learn of a singer who loved to sing, who had a dream of doing it at Carnegie Hall, and about the unconventional love story at the center of it all.

“They may say I couldn’t sing, but no one can say I didn’t sing,” says Florence toward the end of the film, in a final, parting nod toward her naysayers who refused to see—or hear—the unbridled joy and happiness of her out-of-tune operatics.

“Bravo,” Bayfield replies with a bittersweet smile. And bravo, Meryl Streep, for a moving performance that reminds us that music, like any gift, is one meant to be shared, and that in 1944, Florence Foster Jenkins followed the music “in her.”

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Grimm & Grand

Disney version of hit fairy-tale mash-up musical hits all the right notes

INTO THE WOODS

Into the Woods

Starring Meryl Streep, James Cordon & Emily Blunt

Directed by Rob Marshall

PG

Composer Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning 1987 Broadway play, a marvelously intertwined tapestry of several Grimm fairy tales laced with decidedly grown-up themes, debuts on the big screen with an all-star cast—and enough Disney tweaking to make it marketable to younger audiences.

Sondheim’s musical mash-up takes well-known characters from “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack in the Beanstalk,” “Rapunzel” and “Cinderella,” adds a few others, and puts them all on a woodland collision course of fate and fortune—and sometimes, alas, misfortune.

“Anything can happen in the woods,” goes a line in one of the songs.

INTO THE WOODS

Emily Blunt and James Cordon

And it certainly does, as a kindly baker (James Cordon) and his wife (Emily Blunt) embark on a journey to find the magical ingredients that will break a generational curse cast by a witch (Meryl Streep) that has prevented them from having a child.

Before they go, they send Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) traipsing off with a basket of baked goods to see her granny. Soon enough, they come across Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) fleeing from an arduous prince (Chris Pine), and the young village peasant Jack (Daniel Huddlestone), whose trade of a beloved milk cow for some magic beans will come to have calamitous effects for everyone.

INTO THE WOODS

Anna Kendrick

As anyone familiar with the musical knows, Sondheim’s storyline and wonderfully clever, crafty songs work on multiple levels. They traffic in some serious, decidedly heavy topics—parenting, choices, decisions, guilt, forgiveness, infidelity, murder and mortality. But they pack in some soft, tender moments, too, and some hilarious highlights, as well. Younger kids may think Johnny Depp’s two-scene cameo as The (big, bad) Wolf is just a howl-y hoot, but adults will easily catch the “sumptuous carnality” in the role’s campy pedophilic undertones. And you won’t come across many more amusing surprises than “Agony,” the preening, prancing “prince”-off duet between Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, whose royal character yearns for the tower-trapped damsel with the golden hair, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy).

INTO THE WOODS

Meryl Streep

Other recognizable faces include Tracey Ullman as Jack’s mother and Christine Baranski as Cinderella’s stepmother. Everyone sings, and does a terrific job. You might have known Streep and Kendrick, from previous movies, had the pipes for their roles, but prepared to be blown away by everyone else, especially Blunt (who was—ironically—pregnant during much of the shoot) and Cordon, who you’ll be seeing even more of when he takes over The Late Late Show on CBS in March.

This fractured fairy tale might get a bit grim, especially for overly sensitive little ones; it was never intended as a sweet-dreams bedtime story. Disney has softened some of its coarser edges and made other modifications, but the “Be careful what you wish for” morality-tale message in the show’s not-always-so-happily-ever-after remains intact.

Yes, anything can happen in the woods. Who knows, you might find magic beans, witches, princes, big bad wolves, and much more—like the year’s best, most delightful, star-packed movie musical.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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