Movie Review: Florence Foster Jenkins

Sometimes a movie trailer captures my interest, creating anticipation for the upcoming release. Such was the case with this film. I had not heard of it. But I saw previews for it several times, while at the theater to watch another movie. Florence Foster Jenkins trailers not only caught my attention, they pierced my heart as well. In the middle of a busy and full week, I slipped away late this afternoon to watch this enchanting film. 

Florence Foster Jenkins stars Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg. This comedic biography was directed by Stephen Frears and carries a PG-13 rating for brief suggestive material. The film has a run time of 1 hour and 56 minutes.  

Florence Foster Jenkins (Streep), a New York socialite during the early to mid 1900s, has a passion for music. She lives for all things musical, using her influence and wealth to support the arts in her city. She has a loving husband, St. Clair (Grant), a former small time actor, and a circle of adoring friends. 

Florence loves to sing. Nothing touches her heart more deeply than listening to a stirring aria. She has employed various voice teachers throughout her life and devotes herself to her craft. 

The only problem is, Florence can’t sing. 

She doesn’t realize this truth about herself. Her doting husband has shielded her from any unkind or critical remarks, arranging small performances with carefully selected guests whenever Florence feels the urge to sing before an audience. 

However, when Florence decides to begin another round of voice lessons, St. Clair finds his role of greatest supporter and secret protector a challenge. Florence hires a promising young pianist, Cosme McMoon (Helberg), to accompany her. 

Although initially shocked by his generous patron’s singing abilities, Cosme learns to see past Florence’s musical shortcomings. He becomes an ally of St. Clair’s, protecting Florence from ridicule as well. 

Encouraged, Florence unleashes her singing voice on the city and the world, releasing an album and pursuing her lifelong dream of performing in Carnegie Hall, before a sold out audience. 

Is it talent that matters most? Or is it doing what she loves?

This movie was all that the previews hinted it would be…funny, inspiring, deeply moving. I laughed out loud several times. However during most of the film I watched through tear filled eyes and chuckled around a lump in my throat. 

What an amazing woman Florence was. Meryl Streep captures well her child-like whimsy and sense of self. Florence sang her heart out, and delighted in the opportunity to do so. Hugh Grant is one of my favorite actors. It is always a pleasure to watch him perform. His sense of comedic timing is perfect. This was a meaty role that brought him out of semiretirement. I appreciated St. Clair’s devotion to his wife. He never wavered in supporting her dream, although as he pointed out to Cosme, love takes on many forms. 

The real Florence pictured alongside Meryl’s character. 

And it was a joy to see Simon Helberg, most well known for playing Howard on the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory, take on another role. His character, who often had giggling fits, was reminiscent of a young Mozart. 

This movie was a love story, a biography, and an inspirational piece about what is possible when one follows passion.  Florence did what she loved, not caring what anyone else thought or said, as long as she could look into her husband’s eyes and see acceptance and encouragement there. 

I appreciate movies based on true events, and real people. It was worth sitting through end credits to see actual black and white photos of Florence, St. Clair and Cosme. Florence’s performance from her only record played as credits rolled, verifying that technically, she might have been the world’s worst singer. Oh, but she had heart. Florence told her husband, “Some may say that I couldn’t sing, but no one can say that I didn’t sing!” 

Yes, she did. She sang. She was beautiful. I would have been standing and cheering and applauding Florence Foster Jenkins. 

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

I enjoyed a Sunday afternoon movie, in the delightful company of my grandson Jonathan, daughter Elissa and son-in-law Josh. Jonathan chose to see Ghostbusters, the recent reboot of a movie by the same name, released in 1984. This was actually my second viewing of this film, having watched it recently with granddaughter Aubrey, who chose this movie over the kid flick, The Secret Life of Pets. I had not done a review yet, so this was the perfect opportunity to catch more details as I watched again. 

Ghostbusters stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth and Neil Casey. This comedy/sci-fi was directed by Paul Feig and has a run time of 1 hour and 56 minutes. The movie is rated PG-13 for supernatural action and crude humor. 

In this remake of a classic, the gender roles are switched. The Ghostbusters team is made up of Abby Yates (McCarthy), a scientist studying the paranormal, her nuclear engineer, Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), subway worker turned ghost hunter Patty Tolan (Jones) and Abby’s former scientific partner Erin Gilbert (Wiig). 

Erin has distanced herself from Abby and the supernatural, teaching at the prestigious Columbia University, and seeking tenure. Her hopes are dashed as Abby shows back up in her life. Erin confronts her old friend over the reappearance of a book about ghosts that they cowrote years ago. Abby agrees to withdraw the book if Erin will introduce her at the Aldridge mansion, where a malevolent ghost has been sighted. 

There is indeed a ghost in the mansion. And not just there. Apparitions are appearing all over NYC. Erin loses her job at the university and rejoins Abby. The team settles into a new office and hires an attractive assistant, Kevin (Hemsworth), to answer the phone and carry equipment. Patty supplies a vehicle, a hearse from her uncle’s funeral home, and coveralls to protect against sliming. The girls are in business, ghostbusters who use science and engineering to tackle the paranormal. 

They encounter a suspicious man, Rowan (Casey), who is the force behind the recent ghost sighting. He is intent on creating a vortex and unleashing the unhappy dead on the city. It’s mayhem, madness and lots of restless ghosts against the determined Ghostbusters team. 

This was a fun movie to watch. Although the first 15 minutes was a bit scary…Jonathan called it creepy and Aubrey crawled into my lap…the rest of the film was a humorous romp. I saw the original Ghostbusters film years ago and I enjoyed this remake with the gender twist. Melissa McCarthy was brilliant, and well supported by the rest of the cast. There were numerous nods to the original movie and great surprise cameos. 

Chris Hemsworth is always a pleasure to watch on the big screen. Known for playing more serious characters, such as Thor, it’s great to see him in a comedic role where he can offer his gifts in a fresh way. It is worth sitting through the credits to catch extra movie scenes and enjoy Chris as he dances! 

While much of the humor went over my grandchildren’s heads, they both enjoyed the movie. Jonathan said he loved the film and hope they make a sequel. He also said he would purchase this one when it is available. Aubrey loved Ghostbusters as well. It was interesting that as a young girl she liked seeing the women portrayed as smart and scientific. She told me, after we watched the movie, that when she grew up she wouldn’t want to be a ghostbuster, but she would like to learn about science and make cool gadgets. That’s a powerful message for girls offered within a comedy. 

Elissa, Josh and I enjoyed the movie for what it was, a playful, fun adventure with generous dollops of laugh out loud humor. Being familiar with the original film probably enhances the viewing experience but isn’t necessary. We loved hearing the classic theme song and catching the references to the 1984 movie. 

Got ghosts? Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! 

A Walk in the Woods Movie Review

I felt drawn to having a quiet evening at home, watching a movie. I enjoy using my Amazon Video app on my phone to select a film by way of Amazon Prime. Tonight the movie that caught my eye was A Walk in the Woods, based on the 1998 book by travel writer Bill Bryson. 

A Walk in the Woods stars Robert Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson. This comedy/adventure/biography was directed by Ken Kwapis and has a run time of 1 hour and 44 minutes. The film is rated R for language and some sexual references. 

Bill Bryson (Redford) appears to have an ideal life. He’s a popular travelogue writer who has traveled the world, and returned to live in the US. He has a long-lasting marriage to his beautiful wife, Catherine (Thompson), and healthy children and grandchildren. He lives comfortably in New Hampshire. And he feels stifled. In the past four and a half years, he’s only written forewords for other people’s books. 

Restless after attending a friend’s funeral, Bill goes for a walk and comes across the Appalachian Trail near his home. An idea is born. In spite of his age, and lack of hiking experience, Bill decides to walk the 2,200 mile trail that  stretches from Georgia to Maine. 

Although his wife and family try to persuade him of the folly of such a trip, Bill persists in his plans. He at last agrees to take a hiking companion. His old friend Stephen Katz (Nolte) begs to go. A recovering alcoholic, Stephen has a couple of warrants out on him and he hopes to lay low for a while, avoiding arrest. Overweight, with bad knees, Stephen makes an unlikely hiker. Nevertheless, the two fly to Georgia in April to begin their adventure. 

Getting off to a slow start, the hike is full of mishaps and bad weather and strange encounters. But Bill and Stephen rebuild their friendship, share funny memories and stumble upon amazing and beautiful vistas. Along the way, they discover that the trail represents life. They have no idea what’s ahead or where they will end up or who they will meet…but they will give the experience their best efforts. 

I was drawn to this movie because of the creative book I’m working through, Walking in This World. There is much correlation to be found between walking adventurously on trails and walking through life. This film captures that parallel well. The relationship between the two old friends was humorous, although at times I cringed over Stephen’s vocalized low opinion of women. As their shared journey continued, Nolte’s character settled down, opened up, and got beneath the wise cracks and generalizing. 

Bill walked through his restlessness and his feelings of being boxed in. Being exposed to nature and the many twists and turns, literally, along the trail, reconnected him with himself…and his creativity and his desire to write. He saw himself differently, and from that position, he was able to see others differently as well. 

I like the John Muir quote that Bill shared: 

“Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence.”

Sometimes, we have to break free from that which constrains us and go on an adventure.