#REVIEW: “FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS”
Review by Siobhán Rich for Mr. Will Wong
From the first season of American Idol, the most popular episodes have always been those riddled with bad singers like William Hung and General Larry Plant. In the sixth season of the show, there was even a campaign to vote Sanjaya Malakar to the top two despite having his performances eviscerated by the judges. Why do audiences love the bad signers so much? Is it a national case of schadenfreude? Do we see ourselves in these objects of derision and laugh at them before anyone realizes our own foibles? Or perhaps these cases of large scale bullying are instances where we see the bravery of these individuals and secretly envy their courage. By this measure, one of the bravest women in New York in the mid-1940s was Florence Foster Jenkins.
In director Stephen Frear’s latest Movie, Meryl Streep plays the titular philanthropist whose lack of vocal talent was a well-kept secret thanks to her husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), who kept the audiences for her public performances to a manageable group of friends and paid critics. Even her Accompanist, Cosme McMoon (The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg), is reduced to silent laughter upon hearing her sing. The wonderful thing about Florence, however, is her complete belief in herself. She adores music and wants nothing more than to share it with the world be it through recordings or live at Carnegie Hall.
No review of this Movie would be complete without applauding the brilliant casting. Starting minor roles like that of Nina Arianada as Agnes Stark, every person seemed born to play their role. Helberg, for example, is a naturally gifted Pianist which meant that rather than cutting away to someone else’s hands the director was able to catch full shots of McMoon playing.
Graceful aging in Hollywood is something that is rarely permitted which makes Streep and Grant all the more amazing. While Grant’s character describes himself as “…a good Actor; I was never going to be a great Actor,” the same cannot be said of the man himself. Thanks to a subtle performance in a Movie populated by over-the-top characters, the audience is given no opportunity to question Bayfield’s devotion to Foster Jenkins despite his open affair and cohabitation with lover, Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson).
Writer Nicholas Martin had no easy task penning a script about an oblivious rich woman in an age of rationing and austerity measures. It is a testament to Streep’s brilliant commitment to character that even as the audience laughs at Florence’s ear-splitting singing they want nothing more than to defend her from unkind mockery and derision.
One of the key messages in this movie is that “music matters.” Be it off-key Opera or the dulcet tones of Tchaikovsky remains at the centre of the story. The heart, on the other hand, is Florence herself – a proud woman with the courage of a lion and a fierce determination not to be beat down by naysayers. So next time you mock tone deaf contestants on television stop, think of Florence, and cheer people who dare to take chances.
eOne Films release FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS on Friday, August 12, 2016.