Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Movie Review - Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
Starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, and Nina Arianda
Directed by Stephen Frears

Based on a true story from the 1940s, Florence Foster Jenkins tells the tale of its titular New York socialite (played by Meryl Streep) who has a great appreciation and fondness for classical music and opera.  On a whim and with the support of her husband and manager St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) Florence decides that she is going to showcase her operatic singing at a small recital for friends and other New York elite.  St. Clair hires an up-and-coming pianist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg) to be Florence's accompanist and they begin preparing for the recital.  The problem, however, is that Florence can't all.  Her riches have allowed her to be trained by conductors of the Metropolitan Opera, but even these great musical minds can't mold Florence into a good singer.

The relationship between Florence and St. Clair is an unusual one.  Florence had been previously married and through that marriage contracted syphilis, so the couple have never consummated their marriage.  Because of this, despite being married, Florence and St. Clair don't live together with the two having an unspoken rule that St. Clair can see others.  Psychologically, this seemingly has an effect on St. Clair to be incredibly kind and generous to his wife, allowing her to act out her whims regardless of whether she really should, hence St. Clair's insistence that Florence be allowed to sing despite the fact that she simply is atrocious.

It's the admittedly odd connection between Meryl Streep's Florence and Hugh Grant's St. Clair that powers the film along.  There is obvious love conveyed for one another, but their unique living arrangements lead both parties to acquiesce to each other's whims.  This blind acceptance leads to quite a few humorous moments, particularly involving Simon Helberg as Florence's accompanist.  Helberg's Cosmé is seemingly only in the film to give reaction shots to Florence's truly horrible voice, but he does so with such aplomb that it's easy to overlook his underwritten character.  Hugh Grant is also charming -- as he is wont to be in films -- but this is really Meryl Streep's film.  Florence is certainly not as complicated a character as Streep as played in the past, but the actress imbues the character with heart, compassion, and a survivor-esque quality.  She's certainly captivating as always.

The film itself isn't quite as successful.  It's by no means bad, but in the end it's very much a throwaway.  There simply isn't a lot here.  Once we hear how awful Florence is, the comedic schtick runs a bit cold.  You can only hear a woman sing off-key so many times before you find yourself looking at your watch secretly urging the film to come to its conclusion.  Florence Foster Jenkins is amusing and lighthearted, but in the end, it's a bit empty.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

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