Streep, great, of course. But Grant! Who would have thought?
Florence Foster Jenkins
Director: Stephen Frears (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Grifters)
Screenplay: Nicholas Martin
Cast: Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice), Hugh Grant (Love Actually)
Rating: PG 13
Runtime: 110 Min
by John DeSando
“No mockers and no scoffers.” St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant)
Florence Foster Jenkins has an entertaining and instructive ambivalence informing it. Based on true events about the titular heiress who longed to be a singer, director Stephen Frears and writer Nicholas Martin deftly navigate around mockery and scoffing about her poor voice and offer admiration for someone who pursues her dream while she does good for all.
Although the concept of a talentless singer is not new (just reverse the motif in Citizen Kane), here it is infused by the innocent and well-meaning patron, Florence, and played by the consummate actress, Meryl Streep, with a sense of the goodness of her character. Aiding and abetting her emergence as a “singer” is her second husband, Bayfield, who leads an ambivalent life as well, a husband with a lover.
The film is overseen by two points of view: One has her being a fool laughed at by the public; the other is a charity maven admired by arts lovers and philanthropists who would never call her on her lack of talent. In between is her husband, who loves her beyond honesty about her voice. As brought to life by Hugh Grant, who has always played a top-drawer innocent in wolf’s clothing, her husband carries the burden of the audience that both admires and denigrates her singing.
The duality of this comedy drama is expressed in a variety of amusing ways such as the site of a bathtub full of potato salad (a fav food for Florence) to her pianist, McMoon (Simon Helberg), hilariously realizing she can’t sing, while everyone around the room ignores the cacophony. The film reveres her while she in on the brink of collapse from pursuing her dream of stardom, a goal they all know is impossible.
After four plays, one documentary, and two feature films, the subject of Florence Foster Jenkins’ would seem to have run its course. Yet, this recent film shows the subject’s ability to be fresh, perhaps because the innocent following an impossible dream (Quixote, anyone?) is eternally in the hearts of all romantics and those who seek more out of life despite the odds. On the other side of the argument, the subject does seem to be tired and clichéd at times.
Although Meryl Streep may be Oscar nominated again (she holds the record), Hugh Grant deserves the nod for his first time. Cary Grant would approve.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com