“Marguerite” a Bittersweet Comedy About a Talentless Singer with Money to Burn
By Skip Sheffield
Musical talent is a mysterious thing. Some people are born with it. Others can spend a lifetime trying to develop it and still fail.
Such is the dilemma of “Marguerite,” a bittersweet French comedy about a wealthy but talentless woman who aspires to be an opera singer.
Writer-director Xavier Giannoli based his script loosely on the real-life Florence Foster Jenkins, who was a wealthy American socialite who fancied herself a great singer. Because she paid all the bills, no one had the nerve to say what they really thought.
Giannoli has transported the character and story to Paris, 1920. The name Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot) may be a sly reference to American comic actress Margaret Dumont, who was the favorite comic foil of the Marx Brothers comedies.
Marguerite lives on a large estate outside the city, with a full staff and an all-purpose butler named Madelbos (Denis Mpunga), who knows more about Marguerite’s quirks than anyone.
Marguerite’s husband Georges (Andre Marcon) puts up with his wife’s delusions because his business is failing and she foots all the bills. The only singing Marguerite does is in practice and before a private music club before fellow socialites. The club members quietly laugh behind Marguerite’s back as she sings off-key, off-tempo, and with mangled pronunciation.
It takes a certain talent to sing as badly as Marguerite and keep a straight face. Catherine Frot has that talent. She worked previously in 2006 with co-star Andre Marcon in another music-themed movie, “The Page-Turner.” As a matter of fact Frot is downright poignant when her character, at the urging of a cynical music critic (Sylvain Dieuaide), decides to book a theater, hire an orchestra and put on a public performance.
Contrasting with Marguerite is a beautiful young woman named Hazel (Christa Theret), who has an equally beautiful voice and real talent. For pure comic relief there is Michel Fau as foppish, washed-up opera singer Atos Pezzini, who for a handsome sum agrees to be Marguerite’s vocal coach.
There is nothing sadder than a delusional character who does not recognize her own delusions. That’s where the bitter part of bittersweet comes in. It helps to have a passing knowledge of famous opera arias to chuckle at how badly Marguerite bungles classics. It is a rueful chuckle. Anyone who has ever done some performing has run into such delusional characters. Like Marguerite’s fictional friends, it is hard to break the bad news, so we just grin and bear it.