Looney tune

Send your mum and dad to see Florence Foster Jenkins.

***

Florence Foster Jenkins
Cert: PG

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 channeling 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’ latest 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 inconsolable 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 is gentle enough with his real-life charge and 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 time of the grand finale, you can’t deny there is a jolly pleasant, if shrill, melody about the whole thing.

3/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

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Sorority row

Bad Neighbours 2 in “not-wholly-crap” shocker.

***

Title: Bad Neighbours 2
Cert: 16

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 forces with Mac and Kelly, who want an end to the noisy escapades as they try to sell their house. It’s on, as the kids say.

Bad Neighbours 2 is an uneven fiasco, with jokes either missing their targets woefully or else sweeping you away in their outright silliness and cartoonish abandon. Everyone looks 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.

3/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Cup overfloweth

Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups is hard work at times. But it’s not nearly as bad as To The Wonder

***

Knight of Cups

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 flourish (swooping camera pans, enigmatic backdrops, murmured monologues) and dazzles in places. But two hours of “Malick does midlife crisis” is hard work.

3/5

First published in the Sunday Independent