Florence Foster Jenkins-2016
Starring-Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant
Scott’s Review #613
Reviewed January 30, 2017
Director Stephen Frears certainly loves to direct films that are starring vehicles for mature actresses- Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, and now Meryl Streep have benefited vastly by his direction (all received Oscar nominations). In Florence Foster Jenkins, Frears crafts a warm hearted tale of a famous real-life opera singer, the title character, played by Streep. The film is likable, but not up to par with other Frears gems, specifically Philomena or The Queen. The film is a tad too safe for my tastes and should have been darker given the subject matter.
Florence Foster Jenkins is a New York City socialite and heiress living and flourishing during the year 1944. She is the founder of the Verdi Club and does a world of good for music, specifically the world of opera, which she adores. Nicknamed “Bunny” by her husband Bayfield, played by Hugh Grant, he reveres her, but not in the physical sense- he resides elsewhere with a girlfriend. This is due to Bunny being afflicted with long-term syphilis, causing her to be medicated and rendering her bald and unable to engage in sexual relations.
Bunny is a wretched, flat singer, despite her passion for singing, yet everyone convinces her how wonderful she is because she is so well regarded in her social circle. Many people are paid off in exchange for their support. Due to Bunny’s medication, it is assumed that she cannot hear properly leaving her unaware of how bad she really sings. Bunny now determined to sing at Carnegie Hall, Bayfield must scramble to make sure no critics are anywhere in site for the big show, saving his wife from humiliation.
Any film starring Meryl Streep is assured to be fantastic from an acting standpoint and, per usual, she does not disappoint. Streep envelopes the role of Bunny- giving her charm and a vulnerability that only Streep can do. The character knows what she wants and is stubborn, but there is a kindness to her and we see the passion ooze from her pores. Clearly Streep is the highlight and the draw of the film.
Hugh Grant is worthy of kudos himself and I rather liked the chemistry between the two actors. Seeking physical relations with another woman may risk making him appear a cad, but Grant also gives Bayfield a sensitivity and genuine care for his wife. They have “an arrangement” but he hides his girlfriend when Bunny shows up unexpectedly- not wanting Bunny to be embarrassed. Grant’s and Streep’s scenes together are tender and believable.
Simon Helberg, as Bunny’s pianist, McMoon is also a positive of the film. Hired to accompany Bunny’s singing, he is first appalled, bemused, and finally understanding of Bunny, coming to love and respect her for who she is. The character is clearly gay (the film never comes out and says this), but gay themes are common in Frears films and it is a non-issue among the principal characters- wonderful, but perhaps unrealistic for that time.
A flaw of the film is the lack of any purely great moments during the film. I suppose the climax at Carnegie Hall should have been it, but I did not completely buy the entire film. Even the laughter and the mocking of Bunny by the crowd seems done in a soft, light way. The film is a decent offering, nonetheless, and Streep the ultimate selling point. Great costumes, too.