Tuesday 21 November 2017

Film review: Florence Foster Jenkins - a jolly pleasant melody

Cert: PG. Now showing

Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins, with Hugh Grant as her boyfriend, St Clair Bayfield.
Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins, with Hugh Grant as her boyfriend, St Clair Bayfield.

It is a mark of Meryl Streep's imperiousness that she can even make the off-key warblings of a delusional operetta no-hoper sound like a deft dramatic coup.

In channelling Florence Foster Jenkins, the 1940s New York society hostess who wouldn't let something like tone-deafness get in the way of her concert-hall aspirations, Streep masterfully evokes the heiress's core dynamic - buffoonery mixed with a faint air of the tragic.

It's quite an act to pull off, even if the overall tone of Stephen Frears's latest film is as light and sugary as a meringue. Hugh Grant is perfectly, well, Hugh Grant as St Clair Bayfield, the aristocratic English actor who managed Jenkins and masqueraded as her husband. Waddling into this strange, affluent Uptown New York set-up is Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory) as Cosmé McMoon, the meek and talented pianist and composer who is leaned on eloquently by St Clair to pay no attention to the atonal elephant in the room.

Sure enough, not everyone is quite so easily silenced, namely a critic impervious to bribes and servicemen back from duty in Europe who are incoherent with laughter at Florence's performance. Those who earn a living off her (watch out for Irish thesps John Kavanagh and Brid Brennan) must scramble to maintain her dignity and subdue the titters, but for how long?

Frears allows Jenkins to emerge as a good-natured character and a loveable example of mind over matter. Minute attention to detail is paid to the aesthetics of that golden era (take a bow, Dublin costume designer Consolata Boyle), and while it all may feel a little throwaway by the grand finale, you can't deny there is a jolly pleasant, if shrill, melody about the whole thing. 4 Stars

Hilary A White

Knight of Cups

Cert: Club. Now showing at IFI

Still they queue, the starriest Hollywood heavyweights, all begging to work with Terrence Malick. The US's most widescreen auteur is certainly one to tick off for any actor given the inimitability of his aesthetic and the sensuousness he conjured in films like The Thin Red Line or The New World. As for 2011's The Tree of Life, it is one of the 21st Century's great cinematic events.

But as glorious as Malick can be on his day, when he falls into laboured self-indulgence it can feel like being trapped in a two-hour perfume commercial (see - or rather don't see - 2012's To The Wonder). Knight of Cups, alas, is poised more-or-less squarely between the two Malicks, meaning a sweeping, breeze-blown study of mortality and love that struggles to contain its expanses of ponderous, pretty tedium.

Positively plotty compared to To The Wonder, it charts the existential voyaging of Rick (Christian Bale), a successful Hollywood screenwriter re-evaluating life's meaning and his relationship with his father and brother (Brian Dennehy and Wes Bentley). As ciphers, Rick looks to the women his heart encounters, among them Imogen Poots' tearaway, Cate Blanchett's ex-wife, Frieda Pinto's model, a stripper played by Teresa Palmer and a married mistress played by Natalie Portman. Poor Rick.

Quite the cast, for sure, but Knight of Cups (a tarot reference) rather squanders the story asking to be told by drowning everything in religious symbolism and metaphor. It is full of Malick's trademark flourishes and it dazzles in places. But two hours of "Malick does midlife crisis" is hard work. 3 Stars

Hilary A White

Bad Neighbours 2

Cert 16, now showing

Ask yourself this - how do you feel about a recurring gag based around an infant playing with a sex toy? If the answer is "not entirely rosy" then perhaps you should give Bad Neighbours 2 (or Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising as it is bizarrely being called in the US) a wide berth.

Nicholas Stoller's follow-up to the ultra-boorish 2014 US frat-house caper keeps its taste levels deep in the gutter, for sure, but if you are not too prudish and don't mind a bit of low-down dirty fun, then there is just about enough here to drag it over the line. Just.

Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne return as Mac and Kelly who are expecting their second child amid an environment of chaotic but ultimately loving domestic bliss. They run into Teddy (Zac Efron), their former frat-house nemesis who is squatting next door after being gently ejected from his brother's pad. Teddy is now mentoring a sorority called Kappa Nu led by Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) who plan to use admission fees to pay the rent on this little kingdom of women's lib and weed smoking. A disagreement leads to Teddy joining with Mac and Kelly, who want to end the noisy escapades as they try to sell their house.

Everyone seems to be having fun, at times more so than the viewer, and lots of excuses are found for Efron to remove his T-shirt. Within the first five minutes, vomit, faeces and electronic members have been brought to bear so, once again, those with a mild constitution have been warned. 3 Stars

Hilary A White

Robinson Crusoe

Cert PG: Now Showing

This Belgian re-telling of Robinson Crusoe is called The Wild Life in the US, presumably because it is told from the point of view of the animals whose quiet life is interrupted by Crusoe (Yuri Lowenthal) and his wrecked ship. This bizarre, not to say biologically, ecologically and historically impossible collection of animals are all happily shacked up on a minuscule island. Only the parrot, Mak (David Howard),  wishes for adventure and travel, so he is delighted to see the arrival of the gangly human and his dog, Scottie.

While the other animals remain suspicious, Mak rows in and although all the characters speak English, the animals can understand each other but not Crusoe, so he rechristens the parrot Tuesday, presumably because these PC times would no longer allow for a Man Friday.

With animation so incredibly advanced and screenplays that can often rival any film aimed at adults, the bar has been raised for children's films.

This well-intentioned sort of re-telling of Daniel Defoe's classic - there really isn't that much in common with the novel - sadly falls short of that bar. The story has been popular since it appeared 1719 so arguably it doesn't need any retelling. Apart from that, the animation is a bit basic, the plot too simple and the characterisations weak. There are two baddie cats reminiscent of the hyenas in the Lion King, some of the dodgiest accents since Tom Cruise in Far and Away, and a lot of attempts at humour that do not land.

Smaller children might be moderately entertained, but I saw it in a cinema full of families and there was neither much laughing nor engagement going on. 2 Stars

Aine O'Connor

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