Florence Foster Jenkins Aug12


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Florence Foster Jenkins

What to say about Florence Foster Jenkins, the new biopic from director Stephen Frears? I am conflicted.

Florence-Foster-Jenkins-Poster-Meryl-StreepOn one hand, the film is absolutely charming. I was captivated and entertained from start to finish. The actors are uniformly top-notch. Meryl Streep disappears into the character of Florence, Simon Helberg sheds his Wolowitz persona to inhabit the role of Jenkins’ long-suffering, mild-mannered pianist Cosme McMoon, and Hugh Grant as Jenkins unconsumated husband, St. Clair Bayfield, is… well… Hugh Grant is Hugh Grant; just like he is in every movie he’s ever made (that’s not a bad thing; the guy is universally charming!). The costuming and set design are extraordinary. And the script is engaging. And the not so subtle message of pursuing your dream is uplifting, although the mixed up love triangle (husband devoted to his wife yet equally enamoured of his girlfriend) is a bit out of whack.

The film has some very funny moments, particularly those supplied by Helberg as he tries valiantly to keep a straight face when Florence starts to sing. And that’s really the major problem with Florence Foster Jenkins – it’s a one joke film. That joke is that Florence can’t sing. She loves music, but dang it, she can’t carry a tune in a bucket. And she is the only one who doesn’t know it. And because she is fabulously wealthy, no one will tell her. That’s the film’s other not so subtle message: you can do anything you want…if you’re rich.

Florence starts to caterwaul, McMoon makes one of those faces, and the audience cracks up. It’s hilarious! But…

After a while it’s not hilarious anymore. After a while it’s uncomfortable. And after a little while longer it feels shameful to be laughing at this pathetic, poor little rich girl who doesn’t know how bad she is. It’s almost like sitting through a performance of “The Boys Next Door.” You know you shouldn’t be laughing at the foibles of the mentally challenged…yet, it’s just so funny. At least in the beginning it’s funny. Then it’s not so funny anymore. And by the time the credits roll and they are still using that awful, off-key soundtrack, it’s simply, gratingly irritating.

So, I’m conflicted. Florence Foster Jenkins is a beautifully crafted, well-executed biopic of an eccentric historical character that (I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say) most people born after WWII have never heard of. I was entertained by the film. Perhaps that’s enough.