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Florence Foster Jenkins - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Florence Foster Jenkins
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

Perhaps the one amazing thing about Florence Foster Jenkins is that, even though Meryl Streep plays a character who sings genuinely horribly -- so bad it's funny -- through most of it, this is still far from the worst movie in which Streep sings. There are two movies that would compete for that title -- Ricki and the Flash (2015) and -- and I stand by my unpopular opinion that this movie is crap -- Mamma Mia! (2008). Streep's second outright musical, Into the Woods (2014), was markedly better, but she was not the lead in that one.

Much has been made of Streep's opera training in her youth, which I have always found overblown; I never found her singing ability -- in stark contrast to her acting ability -- to be anything special. Decent, sure. She's not a terrible singer.

Turns out she's excellent at playing one. And if you were a little reticent about sitting through a movie filled with a woman singing terribly ("She can be a little flat" is one hell of an understatement), fear not. Sure, there is a surprising amount of screen time devoted to this woman singing badly, but somehow director Stephen Frears makes it work. This is a guy with a solid resume, after all: Dangerous Liaisons (1988); The Queen (2006); Philomena (2013).

Florence Foster Jenkins is based on a true story about a woman with that actual name, so it's not exactly a spoiler (the setting being 1944 notwithstanding) to say that Jenkins never does learn to sing well in this story. This is precisely what makes the movie worth seeing, though: the story doesn't go in the expected direction. This is about a woman who has no idea she can no longer sing well, and the many people who indulge her delusion. She's a wealthy socialite living off an inheritance, which she uses to support her long-struggling actor husband (Hugh Grant, in his first major role in four years). St Clair Bayfield, the husband, is devoted but chaste with Jenkins, because she contracted syphilis from her first husband; he goes home to a girlfriend by night. Ultimately, this amounts to a workable polyamorous relationship, a fascinating thing to see as a mere detail in a major motion picture, particularly one set in the forties.

Hugh Grant is made up (pretty well) to look older than his actual 55; Streep is twelve years Grant's senior but in the film they look roughly the same age. I would argue for letting Grant look his own age -- it's not like an age difference like that in movies is uncommon when the genders are reversed. But, whatever; in reality Bayfield was seven years younger.

We get some of this story from the perspective of Jenkins's hired accompanist for vocal lessons, Cosmé McMoon, played by Simon Helberg, who is fun to see in a role radically different from Howard Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory. He comes into his first lesson and is stunned to find everyone encouraging Jenkins even though she sings so terribly. He can barely contain his laughter, a bit of a problem that spreads to the general public when Jenkins manages to get a professional recording done.

How far Jenkins goes with this "career" is truly astonishing, especially when you consider it's true. Whether or not it's a matter of public record, this part I won't spoil -- just see the movie and experience it for yourself. Streep is excellent as always; the performers around her hold their own. And Streep's singing is actually more entertaining, in a somewhat bittersweet way given the character's condition, then you might expect. Bad singing can be truly unpleasant, but that word could not be applied to Florence Foster Jenkins. This is a pleasant movie-watching experience from beginning to end.

Meryl Streep gives her all in FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS.

Overall: B+
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