Director: Stephen Frears
Auntie Minnie. That was her name. Great-Aunt technically speaking, my Granny’s sister – a spinster, an ‘unclaimed treasure’, a ‘single fish’ – both contemporary terms for any 50-something woman who hadn’t managed to land a bloke, quite possibly as a direct result of a WW1 induced scarcity.
If Auntie Minnie had been cashed-up she could have effortlessly carried off the title ‘eccentric’ but since she worked in a Paisley thread mill, for what would have been the equivalent of the minimum wage – not much – she had to settle for ‘a bit touched’.
Auntie Minnie was a truly dreadful singer. A member of the local Church choir, but always I noticed, up the back, well out of earshot when the organ struck up the likes of ‘Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing’ a plaintive number which, I always felt, suited her perfectly in every way other than when she was singing it.
Minnie wasn’t entirely tuneless but was just close enough to being nearly-there, to be very, very bad. A blend of sharps and flats, spontaneous key changes and a total inability to hear herself, it was classic comedy singing, because not only was it not completely over the top, more importantly, it was sincere.
You could laugh at it – it was all but impossible not to – but somehow it didn’t matter, the sincerity in her voice meant even pissed-up Glasgow housing scheme partygoers, more inclined toward ‘The Very Thought of You’ or ‘Blueberry Hill’, gave Minnie the best of order and respected her sincerity, though not her voice, on numbers like Come Into the Garden, Maud’ and ‘When the Swallows Homeward Fly’.
Sincerely bad. But sincere nevertheless. And you can’t fake sincerity.
Not that Meryl Streep would accept the notion that acting is about faking sincerity, as George Burns, no doubt among many other comedy thieves, said.
Being very much of the method/subsuming style, Meryl inhabits her character like no other actor I know. Technically slick but with a chameleonic intensity that provokes, seemingly out of nowhere, a sensitivity and more crucially,a sincerity that feels truly real.
The storyline in FFJ is almost irrelevant; it’s all about the performances – the cameos are also top-rate but MS’s herself, at the risk of evoking Viz’s Luvvie Darling any further, is a brilliant master-class – a magnificent, idiosyncratic actor right at the top of her game.
Hugh Grant can do ‘likeable’ superbly and does so here. Similarly David Hague, as the money-grabbing singing teacher is good and even a well-fed John Sessions – ‘If you asked me to name 3 geniuses, I’d say Milliken, Cleese, Everitt. Sessions…’ – lends his David Brent endorsed intellect effectively.
It’s impossible to describe MS as FFJ singing, you have to see – or hear it. It’s predictably terrible of course but somehow – even though you can easily see the laughs coming, they still manage to unavoidably appear. It’s funny. The joke – and each time it works – is used reasonably sparingly by Director Stephen Frears and it’s a sound decision in both senses.
Despite years of recognising and appreciating Meryl Steep’s profound talents, I was in no great hurry to see FFJ.
I didn’t expect to like it particularly and I didn’t expect to laugh at all, never mind as much as I did. How good is Meryl Streep? She’s that good.
Put it this way, If I was casting the life story of Auntie Minnie – unlikely I know – the only possible candidate for the gig would be Meryl Streep.
Meryl – expect a call.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
People who like laughing. And Luvvie Darling.