It’s easy to see the trailer for Florence Foster Jenkins and think you have it all figured it out. It looks like the singing version of Eddie the Eagle. The person with no talent that somehow makes it to the highest stage in their dream career. Eddie it is ski jumping. Florence it is singing. However, as much as I loved Eddie the Eagle I think the comparison is selling Florence Foster Jenkins a little bit short. There are some odd but intriguing elements to FFJ that really impressed me. It’s a special film I am honestly still processing.
Florence Foster Jenkins stars Meryl Streep as the title character, a real life socialite who dreams of becoming an opera singer who performs at Carnegie Hall. The subversive element is she is rich and so is constantly surrounded by yes men who patronize her and tell her how great she is at singing. They even buy off critics and an entire audience to cheer for her singing.
The strange thing about this element is the movie is unclear whether these people are doing something kind or cruel. Plus, I was never quite sure how in on the scheme Florence is. She is a trained pianist but her health doesn’t allow her to play. Surely she must know she isn’t a good singer? Sometimes it seems like she does and other times it doesnt. I found that intriguing.
Her husband played by Hugh Grant is another unusual character for this type of movie. They have chemistry and you can tell they love each other. And yet they also have an agreement with his dalliances from the marriage with Rebeca Ferguson. At times he could be quite lovely and then others I kind of hated him. It’s very unusual for this type of movie. Is he doing a nice thing by enabling others or should he be honest with his wife?
There’s also an interesting element with the recordings of her terrible singing being requested by soldiers on the radio. Why? What is it about her voice that people at that era want to hear? I find that fascinating and I like that the movie doesn’t give you the answer. It just left me wondering.
Simon Helberg is lovely as her pianist who is embarrassed to be playing Carnegie Hall and other venues for someone like Florence. In some ways he stands in for the viewer- both cheering Florence on and being horrified by the charade going on.
There is an uncomfortable element of class the movie doesn’t really dwell on. Florence was famous for a mantra “some may say that I couldn’t sing but no one can say that I didn’t sing”. That is commendable but the only reason she sang in Carnegie Hall at least was because of her money- a poor person would have to be content badly singing in front of their friends. So in a weird way a message of the movie is ‘you can achieve the impossible if you are rich”.
But on the other hand this untidy messaging makes the film more intriguing. It’s one more example of a slightly subversive element to what should be a cut and dry inspirational story.
Get ready for your Oscar ballots because Meryl Streep will be nominated for this. She is completely lovely in the part. Without question the best female performance I have seen this year so far. All the rest of the performances are good and the production design, costumes, hair and makeup are all first rate.
Like I said in the beginning, it might be easy to discount this film as a cheesy inspirational story but I encourage you to give it a chance. There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. The characters really made me think about their motives and the morality of their choices.
Overall Grade- A