Rating: 4 Stars
Short Take: ‘Inspired by actual events,’ Florence Foster Jenkins is an off-key delight that tells the story of a middle-aged, wealthy heiress and patron of the arts who, possessing no vocal talents, aspires to become an opera singer in 1944.
Directed by: Stephen Frears
Stars: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg
REEL TAKE: Florence Foster Jenkins is unlikely summer fare at the box office. For those seeking the antidote to super hero movies and CGI fests, Jenkins is a breath of fresh, albeit off-key, air. It is not a perfect film, and it will not likely have much appeal for the average Millennial or mainstream summer blockbuster movie goers, but it is a perfectly delightful way to while away a hot afternoon for the rest of us.
Meryl Streep stars as the titular character, a wealthy socialite and patron of the arts, who fancies herself quite a singer, an opera singer to be precise. What Florence doesn’t know, and what nobody around her will tell her, is that she is completely devoid of talent. It’s a careful dance choreographed by her husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant).
Bankrolled by Florence’s wealth, St Clair is a former actor who puts his two-bit talent to good use, managing every detail of Florence’s productions and wild ideas, whether it’s a charity luncheon (with a plethora of sandwiches and potato salad) or a performance for the Verdi society. The year is 1944. It’s a simpler time and they move within certain social circles, which St. Clair masterfully manipulates. His thoughtful and elaborate planning keeps everything moving smoothly. That is until Florence cuts a record, then all bets are off. Now in possession of the World War II era equivalent of social media, she sends her newly pressed record to a radio station and her less than mellifluous tones go viral.
However, what Florence lacks in talent, she makes up for in her utter love for music. Armed with her passion and devotion, she tackles some of the greatest (and most difficult) arias and sets her sights on Carnegie Hall. And sometimes, just sometimes, that’s enough to couch any critic.
It’s Meryl Streep’s best performance since Julia & Julia and her supporting cast is right up there with her. The film gives Hugh Grant his best roll in many years, and it gives Simon Helberg (TV’s Big Bang Theory) a showcase for his considerable talents as Cosme McKoon, accompanist to Florence Foster Jenkins.
On the surface Florence Foster Jenkins can seem like a simple little trifle, but there’s more going on than one might expect from the trailers. It’s light but not vapid. It’s charming yet poignant. The real Florence Foster Jenkins suffered some tremendous challenges in her life and she rose above them. Director Stephen Frears has created a very sympathetic portrayal and a very tender film. It’s a kind spirit, embodied in every element, which elevates Jenkins and allows it to transcend some inconsistencies in pacing and a mediocre script.
Though her voice is indeed cringe worthy, Florence Foster Jenkins hit all the right notes for this critic.
Reviewed by Michelle Keenan