Movie Review: ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

What’s in a name, especially one you have never heard of? In this case it is zany entertainment.

From the man who gave us The Queen and Philomena, two of the best serious films of the past few years, director Stephen Frears introduces us to a local 1940’s New York celebrity and singer, who was famous primarily for being famous.

With an excellent script by Nicholas Martin, we learn Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) was a local philanthropist who made a fierce potato salad, but couldn’t hit a musical note with a sledge hammer, even though she had been performing to “select” audiences for 30 years.

Her adoring and well kept husband St. Clair played by Hugh Grant, does everything he can to convince Florence that she has a great voice. Florence thinks she does too, as no-one has told her otherwise.

When the opportunity arises to appear at Carnegie Hall, the matron hires a very accomplished pianist, Cosme McMoon, played by Simon Helberg of “The Big Bang Theory.”  Watching Helberg’s face as he first hears the dreadful notes emitting from Florence’s mouth is one of the highlights of the film. It’s been said that Streep can play anyone at anytime, and Florence Foster Jenkins proves that theory once again. As we saw in last year’s Ricki and The Flash, Streep actually can sing, which illustrates her talents even more fully, when she pretends she can’t.

Hugh Grant is the perfect doting husband, even tho they really aren’t married and don’t live together, but he really does love her. He keeps Florence in the dark by bribing entertainment writers, and only inviting close friends, mostly half deaf, to her local performances.

Florence is at best, a totally flat soprano. Florence was actually an heiress, which allowed her to lead an entitled life, which she in turn devotes to others, as the Carnegie Hall concert is a free one for all American servicemen.

However, will exposure to a large audience and a devious press at such a huge venue unveil her secret? That is what the plot evolves around.

With social media being what it is, this story could never happen today. Set in World War 2, the script is based on real life events that occurred to Florence and her husband. Giving first rate performances, as good as Streep and Grant are, Simon almost steals the film from them with his colorful and animated portrayal of Mr. McMoon, whose facial expressions would tell the story without any audio.

I love a good period piece, and Florence Foster Jenkins nails it with vintage 1940’s autos, costumes, theater marques, radios, and vivid hairstyles.   A 2008 documentary “A World of Her Own” completely covers in detail the odd and touching life of Florence.

I have seen two great films in the past week Little Men and now Florence Foster Jenkins. I highly recommend them both. they are very different, but both worth your time if you enjoy good cinema.

More from Bill Dudley
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