Florence Foster Jenkins
Though my recent murder trial kept me from quickly seeing this film, I was stunned to experience its heartwarming nature.
Even though I am late in the game, I went to see Florence Foster Jenkins, directed by Stephen Frears, with minimal expectations. Yes, it had received some interesting reviews from people I respect, but it appeared to be little more than Meryl Streep creating an historical version of the lamentable role she played in last year’s Ricki and the Flash.
So let me say without apologies that I was both moved and impressed with this tiny film. Though Ms. Streep plays an aging opera singer who may be the only person in the Western World unaware of her horrible vocal range, the film itself is a powerful romantic movie that touches your heart.
Taking place in New York in 1944, Ms. Streep plays the title role as a heiress seeking a chance to sing at Carnegie Hall. Surrounded by assistants who depend on her largesse, she has no idea that her singing is borderline laughable.
Nonetheless, the strength of the film flows from her relationship with her younger English husband, Sir St. Clair Bayfield, played marvelously by Hugh Grant. Though he maintains an active extra-marital relationship with the beautiful Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson), he remains devoted to his terribly ill wife. Grant is sensational as a husband who uses all of the marital resources to protect Ms. Streep from public criticism.
Ironically, Ms. Streep’s character tends to fade into the background as Mr. Grant dominates the movie. His relationship with Ms. Ferguson is both understandable and somewhat forgiving, and she clearly is not a weak human being. As you watch Ms. Ferguson’s performance, it is wise to remember her spectacular role as Tom Cruise’s savior in last year’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
Simon Helberg and Nina Arianda are two other actors who give remarkable performances. Mr. Helberg plays Cosme McMoon, the pianist who is asked to accompany a terribly flawed singer while he seeks public fame. It is wonderful to watch him evolve from a young man who has trouble listening to Ms. Streep sing a note to a friend who becomes devoted to her achieving a bit of honor.
Ms. Arianda plays Agnes Stark, a bawdy, extraordinarily well built blonde who likes to taunt men in a public setting. Like Mr. Helberg, she is initially overwhelmed with Ms. Streep’s incompetence only to stand by her in Carnegie Hall.
As I noted earlier, this is a wonderful love story. While Mr. Grant clearly loves two strong women, he will go to great lengths to stand by a wife that he both adores and respects. He may be a flawed character in the eyes of many people, but he will always do what it takes to protect his dear wife.
This movie embodies the old song, “Love is a Many Splendored Thing”. Like the game of golf, a couple may hit a few shots out-of-bounds, but the important thing is that they walk off the 18th green hand-in-hand.