Florence Foster Jenkins
by Lisa Dib
Rather than engaging in the cruelty of mocking an eccentric woman, Florence Foster Jenkins the film tells the story of an endearing and generous socialite who genuinely adored music more than anything else. Florence Foster Jenkins, the woman, has gone down in history as one of the worst (technically-speaking) singers that ever voluntarily graced a stage, but there’s more to the story than just her wails and squeaks.
Jenkins and her husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) are well-to-do New York socialites who are well-connected and very generous benefactors of the city’s arts. Jenkins wants continue to pursue a singing dream, the only problem being that, unbeknownst to herself, she lacks any kind of genuine vocal ability. Bayfield has been managing his wife’s attempts with kindness and cunning, especially since her performances are usually confined to rooms full of her friends and recipients of her generous donations. This becomes more complicated, though, when Jenkins wants to play bigger shows (culminating in a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall) and press her performances on to record.
The entire cast is wonderful here. I genuinely feel that, rather than settling into a rut or phoning it as some might once they reach a certain age and level of notoriety, Hugh Grant is only getting better as he gets older; not that he wasn’t always the ever-so-charmingly befuddled fop, and good at it, but it seems to fit him better in his middle-age. It doesn’t need to be said that Streep is on point, because she always is, and gives real gusto to the comedic, yet touching, role. Simon Helberg, as Jenkins' piant Cosme McMoon, is divine, too, making me sad that most people will only know for The Big Bang Theory. I cannot forgive Chuck Lorre for so badly utilising such good actors.
Director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen) and writer Nicholas Martin (Florence Foster Jenkins is his début feature but Martin has spent many years writing for British TV like Midsomer Murders, The Bill and Dalziel and Pascoe) has made a wonderfully charming and genuine film; it is without pretension or emotional manipulation, instead showing Jenkins’ palpably honest love of music, and Bayfield’ love for his wife. He goes to wild lengths to keep bad review from her sight and scoffers from her audiences; though their marriage has its complications, his unwavering love and care for Jenkins is lovely.
The film ends with a real quote from Jenkins, which perfectly surmises how she approached her career: “People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing”. All she wanted to was fill people with the same wonderment and joy that she herself got from music, and to relish her time on the stage. It made her happy and, even if they laughed at first, the audiences learn to appreciate Jenkins’ singing for what it was: technically un-polished - to put it mildly - but genuine, and full of respect for the art, and passionate.
Florence Foster Jenkins is out now.