Florence Foster Jenkins – a movie review by Roz Tarszisz

April 28, 2016 by Roz Tarszisz
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It must have been hard work for Meryl Streep to learn to sing off-key. 

She has a decent voice (Postcards from the Edge, Ricki and the Flash) but when playing  Florence Foster Jenkins needs to shriek to reach the high notes, well any notes really.
Based on the true story of a New York heiress and socialite, the film, set in 1944, takes us into the moneyed world of a woman with no talent who lives to sing for others.  Her second husband, St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), is an aristocratic English actor who manages Florence’s ambitions.

If it sounds a bit familiar it is. Recent release Marguerite was an imagined French adaptation of Florence’s life but both movies deserve to be seen as different entertainment.

Bayfield hires classical pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg ) to accompany Florence. He tells Bayfield that his wife is not good enough to sing in public, but what Florence wants, she invariably gets.  To realise a long cherished ambition, she books Carnegie Hall to give a concert recital for returned servicemen – with herself the only performer.

Played for laughs, where Marguerite was darker and more nuanced, Florence is a somewhat comic figure, oblivious to her lack of talent. At its heart is the unconventional love between her and Bayfield and it’s his desire to protect her from public ridicule that govern his actions. Grant is good playing a grownup.  Helberg convinces as the nervous young accompanist who subtly matures. Rebecca Ferguson plays Bayfield’s mistress, Kathleen, who always takes a back seat to his wife.

It hard to believe that the records Florence privately produced became very popular.

Streep has mastered the art of bad singing with the same skill she masters an accent. Her Florence is a forceful personality but also an aging diva in poor health while her stage costumes are brilliantly gaudy. Were it not for those (just visible) wonderful cheekbones, you might forget who is playing this buffoonish and deluded woman.

British director Stephen Frears (Philomena) manages to sparingly convey the era  –  as he did so well in Mrs Henderson Presents – although the scene where hundreds of servicemen pour into Carnegie Hall is rather daunting. What if there is a riot when she starts to sing?

3.5 Released 5 May 2016 Rated PG  110 mins

Starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson

Directed Stephen Frears

Written by Nicholas Martin


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