Florence Foster Jenkins
Starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson,
Meryl Streep looks to nab her 30th Golden Globe nomination playing a singer who was considered the worst vocalist of her time. Florence Foster Jenkins is directed by Stephen Frears (Philomena, The Queen) who has become synonymous with assembling award worthy leading female projects. His latest film won’t be a huge hit, or a heavy awards hitter, but it once again finds a delightful performance from Streep. Based on the extraordinary true story of how Jenkins husband, the society in which she existed, worked to keep the monkey sounding songstress away from critics and mockers. Both Streep and Grant are delightful in a film that hits more than a few wrong notes.
In the mid 1940’s, there were two things important to musical socialite Florence Foster Jenkins (Streep), music and her devoted husband St Clair Bayfield (Grant). Of course Jenkins had zero musical ability and Bayfield had a woman on the side, but it was their efforts that counted for something. Continually suffering from the effects of syphilis from her first husband, Jenkins in her later years took up vocal opera, in which she couldn’t carry a tune or hit any sort of impressive notes. Bayfield specifically chooses Cosme McMoon (Helberg) to be his wife’s private pianist and the young composer can barely contain himself the first time he hears Jenkins sing. Her ambition is not to be detoured as she operates in and around carefully selected, often paid, circles that do nothing but complement her work, even if their ears are bleeding.
The film is quite funny, often ridiculous, Streep makes some of the most unbelievable noises imitating, what I assume are authentic Jenkins sounds and notes.
“If you forgive madams eccentricities, you will find ours, is a very happy world”, Bayfield explains to McMoon. The film is quite funny, often ridiculous, Streep makes some of the most unbelievable noises imitating, what I assume are authentic Jenkins sounds and notes. All done with a straight face, underneath the hilarity, lies a sad story of a woman unable to come to terms with her physical limits and natural inability with music. Streep’s performance helps you understand Jenkins desire be something more than just a ridiculously rich socialite. There are flickers of Streeps other performances in this one, the mother in One True Thing, her second time at Carnage Hall (Music of the Heart), maybe even a little Prairie Home Companion.
The film goes a little desperate in the final act, searching for ways to continue the story. The longer the film runs, the farther away from fact it gets. After an embarrassing concert, Bayfield attempts to buy all the local newspapers containing a very negative review. Florence Foster Jenkins wears out her welcome near the end, but it’s the charismatic performances from the three leads that really keep the audience sympathetic. In its own strange way, it’s also a love story, unconventional, but charming all the same. Jenkins was a bold figure, admirable in her determination, despite often having to pay to get the results she wanted to hear.
Streep proves she can bring heart and soul to even the most ridiculous of women and subjects.