Review: ‘Marguerite’— pitch perfect while off-key

Tom Long
The Detroit News

“Marguerite” is a dark delight, a cringe comedy that skirts tragedy throughout, examining delusion, entitlement, denial and the question of whether the truth is essential.

This is a French spin on the story of the American “entertainer” Florence Foster Jenkins, who will be portrayed by Meryl Streep — look out, Oscar — in a biopic later this year. Her tale easily transcends international boundaries.

Here we have Baroness Marguerite Dumont (a heartbreakingly confident Catherine Frot), in 1920, patroness of a classical music club. She pays for performers from Paris to sing and play to the rich. And each performance concludes with Marguerite herself singing for her wealthy friends.

But here’s what no one has ever told Marguerite: She’s an absolutely awful singer, resolutely off-key and hard to bear. Her friends don’t tell her because, well, she throws these lavish shindigs. Her husband (Andre Marcon) won’t tell her because it would be messy. And her butler (Denis Mpunga) actively encourages her, ordering dozens of bouquets of flowers “from her admirers” after each performance.

When two mischievous anarchists sneak into one of her soirees and realize how screechingly awful she is, one writes a tongue-in-cheek positive review for a newspaper. Marguerite’s heart soars and she realizes what she must do: stage a proper concert in one of the great venues in Paris, a show that is sure to set off a worldwide tour.

Toss in a transvestite opera singer, a bearded lady soothsayer, some overt blackmail and her husband’s continuing silence and Marguerite is on her way to the big stage.

Much of this is comical, but writer-director Xavier Giannoli also makes you ache for Marguerite’s innocence and fear the truth that will inevitably be revealed.

There’s also a moment — just a moment — when it seems that Marguerite may indeed be able to sing.

In that moment Marguerite is everyone’s fantasy come true.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.



Rated R for brief graphic nudity and sexual content, and a scene of drug use

Running time: 129 minutes