Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) Movie Review

Friday, May 27, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) 

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) Movie Review

There's something rather wonderful about people who manage to do things incredibly badly - William MacGonagall, the world's worst poet, and Eddie the Eagle Edwards, the world's worst ski-jumper, spring to mind; but Florence Foster Jenkins is in the pantheon as the world's worst singer. I have a CD of the few recordings she made, and not the least remarkable aspect of Meryl Streep's performance is that she superbly captures La Jenkin's extraordinary singing voice. This, however, is only one part of a beautiful performance, in which Streep gives us a touchingly vulnerable Jenkins. I saw this film expecting to laugh - and indeed there are some great comic moments. What I didn't expect, however, was to find myself sympathising with the title character so much, to the extent that I found myself rooting for her - not to give a magnificent recital, but at least to BELIEVE that she had. Hugh Grant plays Jenkins' sort-of husband (they never actually married in real life, though the film implies that they did) and manager. It's a fine performance, and he's lost none of his ease with comic scenes. He also has some heartwarmingly touching scenes in which he gives Jenkins the (platonic) love she is so desperate for, and when he tries to shield her from the truth. Even so, I was never quite sure how to reconcile this side of his character with the double-life he leads without Jenkins' knowledge. Simon Helberg is excellent as Jenkins' much put-upon accompanist, and Nina Arianda provides a good turn as a gold-digger who displays some unexpected heart. Highly recommended.

A near career best performance from Streep

Surely only those with some knowledge of musical history and consequently at least some love of music, or perhaps a penchant for eccentricity like myself, will ever have heard of Florence Foster Jenkins, reputedly the world's worst singer, so without a ready-made audience why a biopic now, (two, if you count the new French film "Marguerite")? Maybe someone somewhere saw in this tale of a deluded grande dame a star vehicle for a talented actress of a certain age as well as an audience-pleasing combination of comedy and pathos and that's exactly what you get. No real knowledge of the subject is necessary to enjoy Stephen Frears' hugely enjoyable biopic "Florence Foster Jenkins" which combines comedy, pathos and a close to career best performance from Meryl Streep, (who else), to terrific effect and if you think Streep can play anything, in her sleep if necessary, pause a moment. On a technical level she may be the most versatile actress in the world but much too often she's been accused of failing to connect on an emotional level. I've always felt her Margaret Thatcher a great piece of mimicry but hardly worthy of a third Oscar and there are those who will claim that her Florence Foster Jenkins is nothing more than a shameless ploy for that elusive fourth Oscar. I will simply say that if she is to win that fourth Oscar surely it has to be for this great performance. Streep clicks on every level; this a tragic-comic performance of the first water in which Meryl never puts a foot wrong and yes, technically it's a marvel too with Streep doing her own appallingly off-key singing, (no mean feat for an actress with a superb voice). This isn't just the best thing she's done since "Doubt" but one of the best things she's ever done.

Amazingly it isn't all a one-woman show; the big revelation here is Hugh Grant as Jenkins' husband, the man who loves her, you might say exploits her, and does his best to protect her. It's the least Hugh Grant-like performance of his career and he's never been better. Likewise "The Big Bang Theory's" Simon Helberg as Cosme McMoon, Jenkins' accompanist, is outstanding in a difficult role. It's also beautifully written by Nicholas Martin, looks great, (the period detail is spot on), and is very well directed by Frears. As we head into the silly season of superhero blockbusters and the kind of of films designed to keep the kids quiet in the summer months this splendid biography may be the last good movie we will see at our multiplexes for months.

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) Movie Review

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