Florence Foster Jenkins
(starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg)
One nightmare that professional performers probably have from time to time is that people are really laughing at them behind their backs. I am sure they are plagued by doubts from time to time. Or maybe all the time.
This didn’t seem to be the case with socialite Florence Foster Jenkins. The movie of the same name tells her eccentric story and shows us a rather tragic figure that was unaware of what was really going on. Or maybe she wasn’t and the joke was on everyone else.
Jenkins, played by Meryl Streep, was born into a rich family and became a musical prodigy, playing the piano and gaining a deep love for music early on. A hand injury curtailed her true musical talent and she turned her attention to singing — something she did not have a talent for. By the time we meet her, she is with her common-law husband (Hugh Grant), putting on invitation-only amateur operettas and variety shows in small venues. These performances seem too attended by three types of people: friends who seem to overlook or not notice Jenkins’s inability to carry a tune, friends who notice but decide not to say anything and others who lavish her with false praise in order to use her status and wealth for their own gain. In the end, spurred on by some of those so-called friends, Jenkins books Carnegie Hall, putting on a concert for servicemen, music critics, and even famous folks. The result is disastrous.
Streep plays Jenkins as a lovable, bouncy and jolly lady who immediately gains our loyalty and support. Although the audience laughs right along with those who are doing it behind Florence’s back, we cheer her on and secretly hope that she triumphs. We are moved by the back story of her struggles with an illness that affects her marriage and most likely her musical ability. The sadder moments are touched upon, but we are mostly presented with a story that celebrates this happily oblivious character.
Grant as Jenkins’s husband, St. Clair Bayfield, is able to do so much in this role, and does it all well even with just his facial expressions. Their common-law marriage is more of an intense friendship, but we have no doubt that he loves Florence deeply and is devoted to her, sometimes to a fault. Although his character is not without flaws, Grant does a remarkable job at portraying this complex figure and we are grateful to him for his protection of his wife; a lady we can’t help but love.
Perhaps the biggest treat and most scene-chewing role in the movie is that of Jenkins’s accompanist, Cosme McMoon, played by Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg.
Helberg is a delight to watch, especially when he tries to contain his amusement, disbelief, and horror when we all finally hear Florence sing. He quickly becomes a supporter and admirer, much like the rest of us.
I am so glad movies have finally gotten over the summer slump. We are now hopefully going to be seeing some good stuff. Florence Foster Jenkins is well done: it has all the ingredients of an entertaining little movie. Yes, spend the money and buy a ticket. You will like it.