This film, starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant lands more with a bittersweet touch then with a mighty roar of laughter. And surprisingly, although Streep gives her usual top-notch performance, it’s more a vehicle that’s tailor-made for Hugh Grant than for anyone else. He plays a husband who strays, but is also devoted to his eccentric and wealthy wife. Grant’s specialty seems to be playing the cad who somehow endears himself to others.
Meryl Streep is a naturally unwavering and solid performer. Unpeeling the layers of the character behind Jenkins, and finding out her motivations are her strong suits. This role is more reminiscent of the Oscar-nominated one she played in Julie & Julia back in 2009. In this part, she peels back the layers and when the veil is lifted at some point, Streep finds the “hook” of the character. In this case, we find in this unusual character the backstory behind her insistence on carrying with her a briefcase at all times.
In Grant’s performance, we see the unwavering devotion and the mixed messages of love and infidelity that go hand in hand with his character. In the case of Jenkins, the triumph of the will and the strength of an indomitable human spirit are bound together. This seems almost the flip side of Sophie in Sophie’s Choice-where Sophie ultimately had no choice. This film is based on the true story of a privileged individual who rose above not just the unexpected handicap and burden of great wealth and all the damage it can wreak, but also the great personal tragedy and loss that can and often does mold character. In this story, it gives new meaning and focus to a life that adapts and finds a way, inspired by a love of music, to rise above the pain and suffering. Jenkins is portrayed as just such a motivated individual.
This is not a hilarious comedy, but a bittersweet one, with subtlety and humor interspersed with some strident notes and sweet glimpses into the human condition.