Film

Florence Foster Jenkins/ I Saw the Light/ A Hologram for the King

Florence Foster Jenkins (May 6) tells the true story, largely forgotten now, of the titular FFJ, an American socialite and enthusiatic amateur soprano, who became known for her singularly terrible performances.

It wasn’t all her fault though; doctors later blamed at least some of her atonality to her ongoing battle with syphilis, and the effects of the arsenic used to treat it. If only she had caught singphilis maybe things would’ve worked out differently for her?

Meryl Streep plays Florence, an enthusiatic but talentless New York heiress with a love for opera and a tin ear, which selectively filters out the caccophonous laughter stemming from her terrible off-key warbling. By Flo’s side is her supportive-to-a-fault spouse St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) a failed actor who supports his wife’s musical aspirations despite her notable lack of talent.

And he’s not the only one. Due to her fabulous wealth and lucrative connections, many of the musical scene’s leading lights played along with Florence’s delusions in order to further their own careers. This false flattery has the unintended consquence of helping cement Florence’s view that she is preturnatural talented and wasted in private performances. So, she packs up her tuning fork and syphilis medication and books the most renowned public musical venue of the day: Carnegie Hall.

Can the softed hearted, but tin-eared, Florrie handle the humiliating laughter of an audience amused by her Messiaen around? Or will her pluck and resolute refusal to acknowledge reality make it a performace too hot to Handel?

In a similarly musical vein: I Saw The Light (May 6), biopic of country singer Hank Williams starring that suave skeleton Tom ‘Keepin’ it Loki’ Hiddleston.

The story follows the brief life (he died at 29) and stratospheric career of a country icon who influenced everyone from Johnny Cash to the Dixie Chicks. Intersting trivia: Hiddleston sings pitch-perfect renditions of Hank’s hits through-out, much like Joaquin Phoenix in 2005’s Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line.

However, unlike Walk the Line, I Saw The Light is being savaged by US critics for focusing heavily on the off-stage Hank who was a thrice-married, pill-popping, booze-swilling carrouser. Johnny Cash was also these things but WtL fleshed out his tormented genius and placed in the context of his hard-partying ways. By all accounts, Williams’ biopic paints him as a dislikeable, self-pitying drunkard and, unless this is an episode of Black Books, that’s no fun.

Next we’re off to Saudi Arabia, home of public executions and beaucoup oil, for A Hologram for the King (May 20) starring the eminently likeable Tom Hanks.

Hanks plays Alan Clay, a down-on-his-luck businessman who takes a trip to Saudi Arabia in the hopes of selling some of his holographic telecommunications systems to King Abdullah.

Being massively in debt and with his estranged daughter’s college tuition to pay, the pressure is really on Clay. This pressure is compounded by the fact that once he arrives at the not-yet-built Economic City, the king keeps him waiting for three weeks. In this time he makes friends with a goofy cab driver who explains the vagaries of Saudi life to him (yes, sand gets everywhere, no, harem pants are not popular here). He also meets a sexily veiled doctor called Zahra who treats his unsexy neck lump while forming a sort-of romantic relationship with him. But, this isn’t Sex in the City (even the second one where they’re in Saudi); unmarried women can’t be cavorting with virile specimens of masculinity like fifty-something Tom Hanks.

Will Alan sell his holographic software to the king or be stuck using it to make Tupac appear on-stage with Justin Bieber at next year’s Coachella? Pop along and find out.

This piece appears in GCN, May 2016. Read it here.

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