Marguerite (2015) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for brief graphic nudity and sexual content, and a scene of drug use
Running Time: 129 min.
Cast: Catherine Frot, Andre Marcon, Denis Mpunga, Michel Fau, Christa Theret
Director: Xavier Giannoli
Screenplay: Xavier Giannoli, Marcia Romano
Review published April 3, 2016
Written and directed by Xavier Giannoli (The Singer, In the Beginning), Marguerite is a seriocomic look at an absurd set of circumstances, loosely inspired by the true story of American singer Florence Foster Jenkins (Jenkins is set to get her own film in 2016, played by Meryl Streep). Set in France around 1920, Catherine Frot (Haute Cuisine, The Dinner Game) plays Marguerite Dumont (her name and occupation, a Marx Brothers nod), a wealthy, aristocratic socialite who has a deep-rooted passion to be an opera singer, despite not having any talent to do so.
Due to her wealth status, and many enablers, including long-suffering (but neglectful) husband Georges (Marcon, Me Myself and Mum) and their protective butler Madelbos (Mpunga, Dead Man Talking), who haven't the heart to tell Marguerite that she's not exactly easy on the ears, she dives in headfirst at a career in the vocal arts. Now that she's taking just singing among friends and peers in private ceremonies to the public arena, those around her are at a loss as to what to do in order to minimize the damage inflicted on Marguerite's fragile ego once the general public has paid to hear her embarrassingly caterwaul on a theater stage.
What follows is not as silly as you'd expect the premise to be, as we learn that Marguerite's desire to be in the public eye stems not as much from her own ego as much as she will make sure that she's noticed by the husband who seems to not be as attentive in the marriage as he had once been in their early days. Though she could have been seen as an ignoramus worthy of plenty of jokes at her expense, Giannoli finds a sympathetic take on Marguerite that allows us to root for her to find a way to succeed, even if it seems as if there are no happy paths for her to follow either in love or her career. In essence, she has taken the difficult road of going against the grain of her talent, or lack thereof, as without the pursuit of this dream, all she'd be left with is the failure of her marriage to a husband who clearly has interests elsewhere. If she can prove herself worthy of adoration without him, maybe she'd also win his love as well.
While the acting and production specs are first rate, where Marguerite falls short of a wholehearted recommendation comes from the rambling nature and excessive run time, which makes the film slack and a bit unfocused by keeping hold of a few superfluous characters that contribute far less to the story than their screen time would suggest. Also, while the classical music and operatic pieces are quite nice to hear, at least when Marguerite isn't singing, it's quite obvious that the pieces are lip-synched, which draws away from the power and the believability just enough to keep us from being truly spellbound by the amazing vocal performances.
Still, it's always fun to watch the charismatic actress Frot, who took home a Cesar Award for the role, whenever she's on screen, brilliantly treading the line between comedy and heartbreak in a way that is as sublime in terms of what she brings to acting as akin to a great opera singer would handle a tricky piece by Mozart. It's enough to elevate the film into one worth checking out if you enjoy her work, as well as of films that spotlight how following ones passions can lead to a life of interesting developments, whether you have the talent to take you to the top or not.
©2016 Vince Leo