Florence Foster Jenkins opens today in cinemas, but does it hit the high notes or fall rather flat…?
Florence Foster Jenkins was an opera singer who drew huge crowds back in the 40s – not because her fans adored her, but because they loved to ridicule her for, according to Wikipedia, her “lack of rhythm, pitch, and tone; her aberrant pronunciation; and her generally poor singing ability”. Basically she occupied a position in the musical world equivalent to what William McGonagall represents to poetry, Amanda McKittrick Ros to prose, or Tommy Wiseau to film. And, astonishingly, up until now there hasn’t been a non-documentary film about her, though the French comedy Marguerite takes some inspiration from her life story, and between 1994 and 2005 she was the subject of at least five different plays.
Hooray, then, for Nicholas Martin, a veteran TV writer on his first feature, and for director Stephen Frears, who gives the picture the old Stephen Frears treatment – meaning that this New York-set, British-shot feature ought to go down well in the States. Hooray, too, for the casting of Meryl Streep as Jenkins, a distinguished-looking Hugh Grant as her husband, and The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg (Howard) as her accompanist, the wonderfully-named Cosmo McMoon. The script plays the three so determinedly as a power trio that it might be hard for any other players to get a look-in, but Rebecca Ferguson is solid as Grant’s mistress, and Nina Arianda impresses as a Brooklyn trophy wife. Still, the picture directs us continually back to those main three. Compared to Helberg’s Howard character, McMoon is equal parts nebbish, but also displays a fastidious camp that is, occasionally, a little close to pantomime (or sitcom). Grant is solid as husband St. Clair Bayfield, playing a nice line between an upper-class sleaze and a genuinely loving husband (St. Clair and Florence live a celibate marriage of the spirit, you see, so you can’t much blame him for keeping a mistress), but of course neither can get close to Streep, and it’s hard to see any other actress performing the rôle as well. The film is, of course, by and large a comedy and yet, to its credit, it has no mean-spirited streak, actually taking care to sympathise with Jenkins, to humanise her beneath all the eccentricity. Streep finds the proper balance between comedy and absurd dignity, but then of course she does.
While Jenkins purists may sniff at the compressed timeline and occasional exaggerations of Martin’s script, for the sane this is a blast of a breezy comedy, with enough emotional depth to make it worth returning to.
Florence Foster Jenkins opens today in UK cinemas, will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!