REVIEW: Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

Theatrical Release Poster - Paramount Pictures

Theatrical Release Poster – Paramount Pictures

The following is a review of Florence Foster Jenkins – Directed by Stephen Frears.

Florence Foster Jenkins tells the true story of the American socialite who, in the 1940s, dreamed of becoming an opera singer who could perform at the greatest concert venues in the world. Unfortunately, Foster Jenkins (played by Meryl Streep) didn’t have a good singing voice, but her husband and manager, St. Clair Bayfield (played by Hugh Grant), loved her too much to tell her.

To allow her to live her dream, he agrees to find a proper group of pianists for her to practice with, and eventually they discover Cosmé McMoon (played by Simon Helberg) who assists her even though he knows she doesn’t have the proper voice for the profession. When her voice doesn’t improve from her singing lessons, Bayfield realizes that he has to protect his vulnerable wife from honest reactions.

I should probably come clean now and admit that I chose not to watch Florence Foster Jenkins in theaters when it was released. To be honest with you, it just didn’t look like anything I’d enjoy, and therefore I waited until I felt like watching it on demand. I’ll never doubt Meryl Streep again. While it isn’t a perfect film, I loved Florence Foster Jenkins more than I ever thought I would.

Now, the main reason why you should watch Florence Foster Jenkins is that there are three sublime acting performances that elevate the film tremendously. I suspect that it would’ve been completely forgettable without the wonderful performances from Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, and Simon Helberg.

It’s tough to really say anything that hasn’t already been said about the legendary Meryl Streep. She’s one of the greatest actors around today, and maybe of all-time, and she doesn’t disappoint as Florence Foster Jenkins. Streep has a reputation of becoming her characters and being totally convincing. She’s a real acting chameleon, and I must say I never saw her character as anyone else than Foster Jenkins.

This film would’ve fallen apart without someone able to make Foster Jenkins’ performance as an opera singer at once entertaining, awkward, and vulnerable. Streep successfully makes you care about Foster Jenkins the way Bayfield does. Speaking of Bayfield, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Hugh Grant give a better performance. His character is witty but believable.

And then there’s Simon Helberg. While he’s certainly known best for playing Howard Wolowitz in the very popular CBS television sitcom The Big Bang Theory, this is the role he should be known for. He’s basically the audience surrogate, and he’s really fun to watch. He puts a smile on your face.

Look, is Florence Foster Jenkins a biopic that tells you everything about what made Bayfield, McMoon, and Foster Jenkins the people they were? No, it’s not. I’ll even go as far as saying that Florence Foster Jenkins is a little bit superficial. Yet I found it absolutely irresistible and wonderful. I think it’s a heartwarming movie that people of all ages can enjoy, even if only more mature audiences will be drawn to it. I don’t think this is just a dramedy for ‘grown-ups.’

I read a review that stated and speculated that the filmmakers didn’t know whether this was to be slapstick or tragedy. Florence Foster Jenkins is neither slapstick nor tragedy, it is a life-affirming film that celebrates dreamers and the people we want to protect most of all. The people we love.

It was an emotional ride for me, if I’m being honest. I felt that it was easy to relate to Bayfield’s love of Florence. I think most people know, or have known, someone who wanted something so much that you wanted to move mountains for them. I laughed. I cried. In the end, isn’t that what movies are all about?

8 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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