FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (director: Stephen Frears; screenwriter: Nicholas Martin; cinematographer: Danny Cohen; editor: Valerio Bonelli; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), Hugh Grant (St Clair Bayfield), Simon Helberg (Cosmé McMoon), Rebecca Ferguson (Kathleen), Nina Arianda (Agnes Stark), David Haig (Carlo Edwards), Brid Brennan (Kitty), John Kavanagh (Arturo Toscanini), Stanley Townsend (Phineas Stark), Allan Corduner (John Totten), Christian McKay (Earl Wilson), John Sessions (Dr. Hermann); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Michael Kuhn, Tracey Seaward; Paramount (BBC Films); 2016-UK)
“An uneven but most pleasant comical biopic on the delusional American heiress opera singer and philanthropist Florence Foster Jenkins.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An uneven but most pleasant comical biopic on the delusional American heiress opera singer and philanthropist Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep). Brit director Stephen Frears (“The Grifters”/”The Queen”) aims for comedy and gets it through his sterling cast despite its chunkiness at times. A jovial Meryl Streep, in another of her Oscar caliber performances, seemingly is having a ball playing the daffy clueless singer, Hugh Grant is a riot as the complex sponger with tons of charm, while Simon Helberg gets the biggest laughs with his audience pleasing facial gesture responses at all the shenanigans. Writer Nicholas Martin’s earthy screenplay, based on a real person, a cult celebrity, plays games with its heroine’s vain yearnings to be involved with performing music even though the soprano has no musical talent. In 1944, in NYC, the wealthy 76-year-old heiress Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) attempts to become an opera singer despite no gift for singing. Florence’s protective roguish common-law husband, the Englishman St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), a failed Shakespearean actor she met in 1919, arranges for her to get voice lessons with the oily Carlo Edwards (David Haig) and have the geeky young effete Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg) be her piano accompanist. Though at first embarrassed to be part of her gravy train and to risk his serious musical career to be with the inept singer, he is soon touched by her earnestness and becomes a loyal member of the team. In the societal musical circles of the wartime 1940s it was easy to bribe most music critics. Barfield bribed all when Florence sang in private recitals for her Club Verdi members. It’s an opera club she founded and supported, where members would be chosen by Barfield if they said only good things about her singing. Only the NY Post’s Earl Wilson (Christian McKay), its entertainment columnist, could not be bribed. He was therefore banned from her private recitals. The debonair Barfield keeps an English mistress, Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson), in an apartment paid for by Florence. Though Florence is aware of his discretion, she has given him tacit approval to be with others We learn that there’s no sex in her relationship with Barfield, since her first husband left her scarred and bald from syphilis. She therefore realizes sex was not a viable option in their almost perfect arrangement. The big joke is that even though Florence is laughed at for her nerve to sing in concerts, she gets to make a demo record that breaks all record sales for the company and plays to a sold-out Carnegie Hall. During that infamous concert, the thousand soldiers she gave free tickets to jeer at her, but then begin rooting for her when given a stern lecture on manners by the sexy vulgarian ex-showgirl wife of a tycoon (Nina Arianda). A good companion piece for this film is “Marguerite,” a fictionalized French version of her life that came out in 2015 and offers a more demanding look at her life.
REVIEWED ON 9/2/2016 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ