Film Reviews

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS

By • Aug 11th, 2016 •

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Meryl Streep is brilliant and the sun is shining on Hugh Grant again. Their performances are extraordinary.

Hugh Grant has starred in several memorable films. For me, his best performances were in FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994), NOTTING HILL (1999) and ABOUT A BOY (2002).  Grant is fondly remembered for BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY (2001) and BRIDGET JONES: EDGE OF REASON (2004). Like Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth, Grant was supposed to return for the third installment of the Bridget Jones series, BRIDGET JONES’S BABY. Grant decided he wanted no part of the third film after – supposedly – reading the screenplay.

On imdb.com Grant’s filmography lists THE REWRITE (2014) which may be released eventually in the U.S. and a minor role in THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. And now comes the revival of Grant’s career with the absolutely brilliant performance he gives in FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt when your co-star is Meryl Streep and she is so invested in the role that you must match her in character commitment. Streep’s co-stars know being in a film with her no walk in the park on a Sunday afternoon. You have to have your game face on and your cell phone off.

Streep plays the real life Florence Foster Jenkins and Grant plays her husband St. Clair Bayfield. If you married Prince Charming, he’d be this kind of husband.

While Streep is all in – playing a 76-year-old woman aristocratic socialite who is delusional about her singing talents – and happily throws away all movie star vanity. Florence is frumpy, overweight, bald and heading towards infirmity. She is wealthy by the standards of the time and is extremely generous. Because of a sudden early marriage, Florence has a lingering sexually-transmitted disease. Their marriage is chase and she allows St. Clair his down-time playing “golf”. St. Clair is her devoted, loyal champion. And, most importantly, he adores her. He worships her. She is a goddess to him.

When she is in the room and especially when she is singing, St. Clair is looking only at her with joy and love. St. Clair is so blinded by love that no one can even approach the subject of her lack of talent to him. Or even that she may be off-key, unable to hit certain notes, or has the insane belief in her abilities as a singer.

Florence needs a piano accompanist and St. Clair hires Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg). A classically-trained pianist, Cosmé is a struggling artist and Florence offers him an enormous salary. He cannot believe how everyone around Florence – even famed conductor Arturo Toscanini – praise her singing. No matter how she screams the notes, they tell her she is bringing perfection to the music. Cosmé tries to talk with St. Clair about Florence’s lack of any talent but St. Clair honestly does not understand what he is talking about. He is furious Cosmé is laughing at Florence.

Accompanying Florence in public will certainly ruin any chances he might have for a career. If he does, he will be joining Florence as her laughingstock accompanist.

Getty Stirs Alarm by $2 Million Donation to Fund Premiere” was the headline on Bloomberg.com on October 31, 2012.  “Eyebrows were raised when Welsh National Opera announced that it is getting a $2 million grant from the wealthy Getty family for the forthcoming world premiere of “Usher House” by one of the family members.” The fortune of Gordon Getty, 77, is about $4 billion. He is the fourth son of oil tycoon John Paul Getty, and a philanthropist and patron of the arts. Gordon Getty’s opera “Usher House,” based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe.

Florence has only one flaw – she believes herself a world-class singer. With her considerable inheritance, she has founded and funded many women’s groups. She has spent decades singing at the galas she has funded. The return for her largess is the devotion of her fans. Finally, with the encouragement of famed composers and a well-regarded voice coach, Florence believes she is ready for Carnegie Hall.

Streep’s brilliant performance is based on one thing – Florence’s absolute belief in her talents. What makes Grant’s performance so fantastic is his St. Clair is truly blinded by love. He doesn’t wink at the audience. We believe he believes Florence can sing. He is not setting Florence up to be humiliated at Carnegie Hall.

The screenplay written by Nicholas Martin fudges some of the real Florence’s life. She eloped when she was 14 and did contract syphilis from her 16 years older husband, Dr. Frank Jenkins. She got a nice little inheritance when her father died and, still married to Jenkins, embarked on staging operas (which provided her with non-singing roles). She also met St. Clair, who was an out-of-work actor. When Dr. Jenkins died, St. Clair assumed the role of Florence’s caretaker, manager and MC for her performances. Florence considered their relationship as a secret “common-law marriage.”

At the start of World War II, Florence became very active supporting charities and the Red Cross. Her galas raised a lot of money for good causes. With Florence’s elevation as a doyenne of opera and surrounded by her admires, her vanity and total disregard of her horrendous singing, was ignited. A diva was born! Her Carnegie Hall performance was a disaster and the reviews were savage and cruel.

St. Clair believed she died of a broken heart after reading the reviews. The film’s epitaph for St. Clair said after Florence died he lived modestly. What happened to Florence’s money? She sold a lot of records and was that era’s Tiny Tim.

To all those boys who wanted to become rock stars but had to drop that dream to get a job to buy a car and then was hoodwinked into joining the real world, pick up that guitar and get the band back together! As Florence says on her deathbed, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”

Stephen Frears, the director of FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS, knows how to handle star performances and all three main roles are given time to develop. When actresses complain about no roles for actresses over 40 – no less over 50 or 60 – should take a closer look at Streep’s career. She is willing to play unattractive characters and wear padded dresses and ugly wigs.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com.

 

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