FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS
Directed by Stephen Frears
Starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg
It's safe to say that any Meryl Streep performance is going to be a good Meryl Streep performance. Many times, she's the best part of every film. Even last year's Ricki and the Flash, which was mediocre at best, gave Streep the chance to do something slightly new and great. While some of her performances can be too close to caricature, the joy is that Streep has a subtle ability to completely melt into any character to whom she's tasked at giving life. In Florence Foster Jenkins, Streep bounds past caricature to deliver an honest identity within a larger-than-life true story.
Streep stars as the titular Florence Foster Jenkins, a 1940's New York heiress past her prime, but perfectly willing to still shoot for her dreams. Though she grew up musically inclined, Jenkins' main thrills came from performing in any capacity. Her annual tableaus garnered pleasant crowds of friends and revelers. After seeing a opera singer completely enrapture a room of eager music fans, Jenkins does the unthinkable. Much to the chagrin of her common law husband and manager, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), Jenkins hires an accompanist, Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg), and concocts an extraordinary plan to perform at Carnegie Hall.
The true spirit of Florence Foster Jenkins is how honestly absurd the whole premise is and how respectful the entire filmmaking team treats it. While Jenkins' voice is infamously bad, and the film highlights this in hilarious ways, there's a sense of confidence Streep's Jenkins exudes which makes it feel less like bullying and more like compelling artistry.
In fact, director Stephen Frears keeps the focus and energy of the film in a place that encourages the audience to root for Jenkins, while the rest of the world at the time may have been laughing at her. If this story had been fabricated, it would not live up to the pedigree of an analogous morality tale. But, in its truthfulness, Florence Foster Jenkins speaks to that small piece in all of us telling us that our dreams are still attainable. Without any vocal talent, Jenkins still inspired audiences and filled the void in her own life. Though criticism can be tough, and Jenkins and her team did everything they could to keep honest critics away, the fact that she found the courage in herself to stand on the stage of Carnegie Hall and fulfill her dream is telling and encouraging.
The story aside, as a film, Frears packs a punch with his performers. Streep soars in an awards-worthy performance as Jenkins. Grant, returning to the screen just to work with Streep, shines. If projects like this keep coming his way, we're in for a treat. Helberg, who's most notably part of the cast of "The Big Bang Theory", surprises in a quirky supporting, but important, role.
Style and substance are two other main ingredients here. Though filmed in England, the early 20th century New York set pieces, cars, and costumes, are wonderfully elegant. The bustle of the times, especially in the aristocratic arenas, is on perfect display. Every piece of the film is fun to watch.
With a pace that's never dull and a script that earns plenty of laughs, Florence Foster Jenkins is a fun time at the movies.
Runtime: 110 minutes