Bravo, Meryl Streep --- you have done it again! What must it be like to be so damn talented? She portrays New York socialite Florence Foster Jenkins with such perfection that it will bring tears to your eyes --- literally.
Florence is obsessed with music. She and her husband/manager, St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), have been supporting the art of music in New York for many years. It is 1944 and Florence has decided she would like to begin singing lessons again, and young Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg) is hired as her pianist. The kicker is Florence hears something completely different from everyone around her when she sings. She believes she has a wonderful operatic voice, but in reality, she can't hit a note.
Directed by Stephen Frears, who also helmed such stalwarts as "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988), "The Grifters" (1990), "The Queen" (2006) and one of David's personal favorites "Philomena" (2013), "Florence Foster Jenkins" is delightful from beginning to end. Screenwriter Nicholas Martin has done an exemplary job moving the narrative along without becoming maudlin, and infusing the dialogue with a great deal of humor. I laughed out loud many times.
Florence's back story is not a particularly happy one. Her wealthy father disinherited her for loving music and playing the piano. Her first husband gave her syphilis at age 18, with which she has lived for over 50 years. But now the effects of the disease are catching up with poor, sweet Florence, and she deigns it necessary for her to hold a concert at Carnegie Hall before she expires.
To write that Streep is magnificent would be an understatement. She's as good as she has ever been --- no one can out-nuance her. She holds the screen like no other actor, and she brings Florence to life with a joyful, bigger-than-life verve.
David and I are huge fans of "The Big Bang Theory", so we are not at all surprised by Helberg's performance. He is the perfect choice for McMoon, who worries constantly about being taken seriously as the accompanist of a woman who clearly cannot sing. Helberg's facial expressions are priceless, and when he can't stop giggling in the elevator after first meeting Florence and listening to her, it's downright hilarious.
Grant has actually never been better. He's aged well and fits the role of an English aristocrat/fine actor wannabe beautifully. This is a gem of a role for him and he does not disappoint. Grant is still as roguishly handsome and boyish as always.
I enjoyed "Florence Foster Jenkins" a great deal more than David, though he did admit to liking the second half of the film better. It's such a much-needed break from all of the "Jason Bourne", "Star Trek Beyond" movies flooding the theaters. If you are a Streep fan --- this is NOT to be
missed --- 20th Oscar nom coming her way!
Opinion: See It Now!
The real Florence Foster Jenkins was a New York socialite who used her inherited wealth to establish a private music organization in the 1940's called the Verdi Club. There she would appear in performances for its membership, wearing elaborate costumes of her own design. When she ultimately began vocalizing, there was one problem --- she couldn't sing.
Meryl Streep's performance as the exuberant Jenkins in "Florence Foster Jenkins" could very well earn her a 20th Academy Award nomination. But the movie itself doesn't explain why her husband, her pianist and her voice coach let her believe she was talented enough to sing in public venues, let alone Carnegie Hall. I can explain it, though --- they all liked her money.
Husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), an expatriated Brit, appears to be a doting spouse even though he carries on with other women, most notably a pretty, but much younger, Kathleen (Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, co-starring with Emily Blunt in the highly-anticipated "The Girl on the Train"). But "Florence Foster Jenkins" never develops Kathleen's character. She serves only as the most blatant example of Bayfield's philandering.
We believe Bayfield truly cares for Florence, even though theirs is a totally platonic relationship since she contracted syphilis years before. And he appears to be sincerely anguished when audiences mock Florence's inability to carry a note. After her appearance at Carnegie Hall, Bayfield buys up every New York Post in sight in an attempt to prevent Florence from reading the scathing review of prominent entertainment critic/gossip columnist Earl Wilson (Christian McKay). Again, is he protecting her from ridicule, or preserving his own interests? After all, even he says at one point that "she pays my rent".
"Florence Foster Jenkins" is essentially a sad story wrapped inside a comedy. Like "The Emperor's New Clothes", Florence seems oblivious to the fact that audiences are, for the most part, laughing at her, and not with her. Yet in Streep's capable hands, Florence is a likeable and sympathetic character.
The funniest moments occur when audience members at her concerts display a variety of pained facial expressions, not quite believing their ears. But if the film reaps another Oscar nom for Streep, it may be an even bigger boost to Simon Helberg of TV's "The Big Bang Theory".
He plays Florence's long-suffering pianist Cosmé McMoon. The talented Helberg does some of his own piano playing, but it is his reactions to her abhorrent singing that are entertaining. It is quite a significant career move for him to be performing opposite Streep.
And I liked Grant as Bayfield. Despite his extramarital affair, we still think he's an okay fellow. The only really heinous character in Florence's life is her condescending singing coach, Carlo Edwards (David Haig). He clearly knows that Florence is an abominable singer, but cheerfully continues her lessons with dollar signs squarely in his sights.
"Florence Foster Jenkins", without much in the way of pithy character development or historical context, comes off as a bit of a repetitive one-note joke. But Streep, who actually has a very pleasant singing voice, pulls off the very difficult task of intentionally singing off-key.
As the film closes, with Florence near death and aware of her public reputation, she imagines herself, as she always had, singing beautifully. And that alone is worth the price of admission.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!