Stephen Frears (Philomena) has a penchant for interesting women. He treats them with great care and love and provides insights into their lives. While intriguing at times, just getting peeks inside the lives of individuals isn’t necessarily a good story, you need conflict. And, in the case of Florence, there is no real conflict, merely more of a fable with a one-line payoff near the end. It is a good line, and the characters will pull at your heart, but there isn’t much of a plot here. What you do get is a series of events that left me wondering what I was supposed to feel for any of the (historically) very real people involved.
Meryl Streep (The Giver), Hugh Grant (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and Simon Helberg (Big Bang Theory) form a bizarre triangle and co-dependent trio at the center of Florence’s tale. Helberg is the interloper that provides our view into the strange world that has been built up by Jenkins’ retinue over the years. Through him we learn to appreciate and love that world, but not necessarily know how to judge or appreciate it.
While Helberg turns in a wonderfully subtle experience, it was really Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation) and Nina Arianda (Lucky Them) who stood out for me. Each of these women had a real journey that had impact, even though they were minor characters. Through them we get a glimpse of the real world that lives outside the muffled circle at the core.
A few days ago, I posted about Marguerite, which took on this same bit of history, but tackled it with more of a sense of story and theme. Frears film, even given the excellent cast and performance, felt like it was all about the moments and aimed more at fluffy emotion rather than anything meaty that would stick with you. Think a Woody Allen film about a moment in history. As a distraction or to enjoy a performer you follow, sure. But this take on the story, even though truer to history, doesn’t feel like a movie you come back to… at least not to me. See it for the craft and for a distraction, but if you want more of a film, check out Marguerite. For that matter, see this first and then Marguerite for a wonderful comparison of writing.