Starring Meryl Streep (as Florence) and Hugh Grant (as Florence’s husband, St. Clair Bayfield), Florence Foster Jenkins is mostly a story of love; Jenkin’s love of music and the love between her and her husband. Based on a true story and set in the early 1940’s Florence decides she wants to pursue opera singing, despite the fact that her voice is inarguably terrible. Somehow, her singing goes viral (far before the internet came along), and the rest is history. Her husband indulges and enables her for a number of reasons, as they both buy their way into realizing her dream of selling out and singing at Carnegie Hall.
At first one might feel as though this entitled, rich woman is just a brat who wants to have her way and inflict her horrible voice on others because of her ego. But as the story delves a bit deeper into Florence’s life and her past, we find this is not the case at all. What comes out of Florence’s mouth when she sings and what she feels in her spirit when she sings are two very different things. She sings because she has a genuine love for music and it brings her great joy.
Florence Foster Jenkins is billed as a biography, comedy, drama and each of these elements are expertly woven together throughout the telling of her tale. You will laugh and you may tear up, but you will definitely learn a lesson about judging books by covers and discovering that no amount of money allows anyone to escape from having problems and complications in their life. This film subtly demonstrates why we should live our best life every day that we possibly can, doing the things that we love, surrounded by people we love.
Cosmé McMoon, (played by Simon Helberg (Howard Walowitz from The Big Bang Theory)) is a pivotal character, playing Florence’s quirky, socially awkward, endearing pianist, who is dumbfounded by Florence’s voice and ambitions, until he gets to know and understand her better. His character reflects the audience and how we feel about Florence. As his opinion of Florence changes, so will yours.
Hugh Grant is delightful as Florence’s doting husband who loves and protects her consistently while she follows her dream. While the marriage is definitely non-traditional, it is not a marriage of convenience. They are true best friends.
Meryl Streep needs to be added to that short list of sure things in life, along with death and taxes, in that she can always be counted on to deliver the goods on any performance she attempts. Her performance is effortless, whether she is cracking you up with that horrible singing or demonstrating Florence’s sad, insecure and/or vulnerable side.
The costume designers outdid themselves with every outfit in this film. Although it is still a bit early, as Oscar season approaches, I would not be surprised if the costume/wardrobe crew got a nomination. All costumes on all the characters were outstanding.
Problems with this movie are few, but most importantly, the characters, with the exception of Cosmé, did not change. They did not evolve, grow, come to any new or different conclusions about life or themselves or anyone or anything else. In this sense, the story is very “one note” and a bit “flat.” It was literally the retelling of what happened without much depth.
Florence Foster Jenkins earned 7.5 out of 10 bloops. Florence’s story is interesting, the acting is solid and the set design and costumes are absolutely lovely. It is a good movie that shouldn’t be missed.