MOVIE REVIEW: You’ll fall in love with quirky Wilkes-Barre native ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’
Maybe there’s something that I can relate to in the personality of the strange, erratic, and often random Florence Foster Jenkins.
The Wilkes-Barre-born socialite and patron of music shares a profound love of the arts, just like me. She aspired to be a musician, performing as a pianist up until an arm injury prevented her from playing.
Whether it was a cruel twist of fate or just a lack of luck, Jenkins simply didn’t have what it takes to make it as a professional musician.
What set Jenkins apart from others, however, was the funds she had available to support and finance her passion for the arts. Jenkins was the beneficiary of a sizable trust left to her after her wealthy father’s death.
Jenkins, played by the always wonderful Meryl Streep in the new film simply titled “Florence Foster Jenkins,” used her money to fund any and all things involved with music, forming private music appreciation clubs for her wealthy friends and supporters by putting on stage performances which usually featured her as an extravagantly clothed character. She’s utterly charming. Something about her is just infinitely likable and quirky in the best way.
Her biggest supporter was her young husband, an actor and monologist called St. Clair Bayfield, played by Hugh Grant. Despite the seven-year age gap between him and Jenkins, the two clearly cared deeply for one another.
Grant and Streep play off one another brilliantly when on screen, making the relationship between the characters feel genuine and believable; the two feel like an actual married couple. Bayfield is supportive of any and all things Florence wants, usually planning and allocating the finances and resources to make it happen.
However, one of the few things Jenkins’ money couldn’t buy her was a better singing voice. Her love of music and instrumental talent early in life unfortunately didn’t translate into a quality singing voice.
Florence has the best vocal coaches, hires the best pianists to perform with her, and sells out rooms full of people to listen to her. None of that, however, makes up for the absolutely dreadful sound of her singing opera classics. The terrible nature of her voice is, however, delicately kept from her by everyone around her. Her husband, friends, and hired musical colleagues all push through and support her, regardless of the quality of her voice.
This is where the crux of the film lies. The comedy, character development, and plot are all driven along by the complexity of this tension.
One of the characters dealing with the most pressure is young pianist Cosmé McMoon, played by Simon Helberg. McMoon is being paid handsomely for his work with Jenkins, but he can’t help but worry about his musical reputation.
Each of the main characters has their own burden to bear, and each handle it in a relatable, if not somewhat sappy, way.
The performances are all pretty good but, as usual, Streep steals the show. She completely embodies the character of Jenkins here, down to her smallest mannerisms. She makes her character not only fun to watch and laugh at, but sympathetic in her motivations as well. As a viewer, you understand her actions throughout the film.
The film is a gentle, yet grounded look at a series of complicated relationships between complex characters, while still managing to make me laugh.
Like I said before, maybe I just have a soft spot for a fellow Northeastern Pennsylvania native and lover of the arts, but I enjoyed this for what it was. It was a funny, entertaining journey into the life of a local I had never heard of up until I saw the film.