Movie Review: Florence Foster Jenkins

By Maria Lubanovic, Contributor

[Qwerty; 2016]

Rating: 8/10

Florence Foster Jenkins is a biopic of the real life amateur opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins, a rich woman whose second husband basically paid people to listen to her sing. Florence, played by Meryl Streep, loves music, as it has always given her and other people joy. The problem lies not in her gusto in her love of music, but her lack of talent as a singer. People loved her, but only because they thought it was some sort of wild comedy act. She had not only an album and a music club that she ran, but she even played at Carnegie Hall, a feat dreamed of by musicians everywhere.

Florence is supported by her second husband, St. Clair Baker, played by Hugh Grant. He is just as important as Florence, since, without him, there would be no existence of the fragile yet perfect environment that allows Florence to perform. He lives with another woman, which makes the entire situation even more tragic, even though it works without Florence knowing the whole truth. Florence is also supported by her piano player, Cosme McMoon, played by Simon Helberg, an outsider to the entire situation. He seems to be the only one who understands how absurd the whole affair is until he becomes swept up in it himself, helping Florence do her recordings, and playing with her at Carnegie Hall.

Meryl Streep, of course, is wonderful. Her singing is so accurate to the original Jenkins recordings, and her style while singing is perfectly over the top without being campy or unrefined. She is not only hilarious, but she also is able to make you feel sympathy for her, even though she lives a very rich life inside of her perfect bubble, which could have been a huge problem for this movie. Hugh Grant’s performance is equally good. Even though his character is not always ethically sound, Grant is charming and his character is likable, as he is sincere in the way that he keeps this dream world alive. There is always a feeling of melancholy, as he knows what sort of burden he carries in keeping Florence’s world alive. Seeing Simon Helberg as anyone other than Howard Wolowitz from The Big Bang Theory is a little jarring, yet his comedic timing was still wonderful, and the fact that he actually played the piano in all of his scenes deserves an appreciation equal to that of his comedic talent.

The costuming, lighting and sets were beautifully done, and the overall style of the film is consistently aesthetically pleasing yet technical, with many of the shots contributing to the comedic effect of Streep’s performance, while also immersing the audience in the beauty and gravity of the times. Even some of the visual gags were as funny as the characters. Who will ever forget the elaborate claw footed bathtub filled with potato salad?

Overall the film was beautifully done along with being funny enough to keep interest in a biopic that would otherwise just be about a rich old lady who bought her way to Carnegie. It is definitely worth a watch.

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