Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Movie Review #474: "Florence Foster Jenkins" (2016)

Movie"Florence Foster Jenkins"
Director: Stephen Frears
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
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Wealthy heiress and philanthropist Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) lives for and loves music. Her dream is to sing at Carnegie Hall, but there's just one problem: she can't really sing, though she doesn't know it. Her husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) will do anything to keep her from learning this fact, even if means bribing a lot of people to do it.

Directed by Stephen Frears, who is known for films like "High Fidelity" and "The Queen," "Florence Foster Jenkins" tells the story of the woman herself. The always fabulous Meryl Streep plays the titular character Florence Foster Jenkins, a wealthy, quirky, odd heiress with a deep and unabashed love for music and the voice of a tortured chimpanzee. As we all know from her other storied, excellent past roles, Streep is actually quite the accomplished singer, so she does a brilliant job pretending she can't sing a note on key. Hugh Grant plays the husband of Florence, Mr. St Clair Bayfield, who loves his wife and is deeply devoted to her despite living in a separate house with a live-in mistress. Florence is very ill and St Clair will do whatever he can to keep her happy and comfortable, even if it means allowing her to perform an operatic concert for the masses. He never lets on that she can't sing and does his best to make sure no one else does either, even if it means bribing critics and surrounding her with agreeable friends and audience members who have benefited from her philanthropy. As the film progresses, we learn more about why Florence loves music so much, as well as understand where she has come from and has been in her life in regards to her money, her family and friends, her relationships, and of course, those who help her musically.

As we fully expected, Meryl Streep is Florence Foster Jenkins. She is absolutely brilliant in this movie. Every horrible note, every tear, every scream, every laugh, we believe Streep as Jenkins 100%, and that's why it is an honor, nay, a privilege to watch her act every time she graces us with her presence. Streep may be closing in on her 20th Academy Award nomination with her performance in this film. Surprisingly, this may be Hugh Grant's best performance to date. Grant is a much more devoted, involved, and believable character than we've seen from him in the past, and we truly loved his performance. Don't be surprised if you hear his name called at the Oscars next year, either. They both give worthwhile, engaging portrayals of their respective persons. Grant and Streep have incredible chemistry together in their aged, mature relationship, and even when they are apart from each other, we never once doubt their love for one another. Joining Grant and Streep is Simon Helberg as Cosmé McMoon, the man given the fortunate (or unfortunate privilege, depending on how you look at it) of being the pianist for Florence Foster Jenkins. McMoon is all too aware Florence cannot sing, but a steady job paying $150 a week during the time of WWII is just too much to pass up, reputation be damned. We know Helberg in name only and are unfamiliar with most of his work (mainly because we do not watch "The Big Bang Theory"), but his acting here is a pleasant, delightful treat and quite a surprise.

"Florence Foster Jenkins" can be quite funny while Florence is singing, even though it is not really supposed to make us laugh. Whenever she is thrust upon the general, unbribed public, there is a hearty mix of uncontrollable laughter and secondhand embarrassment. At some point, though, many of those who watch her perform take a liking to her ironically because they believe she is a comedic genius, even if that comedy is unintentional. There is a delicate balance between "should we be laughing at her?" and "oh man, she is terrible!" and "awww, she's just so sweet!" Ultimately, this is a charming movie with stellar performances from its three main actors. One could argue it is simply a movie about a wealthy woman feeding her own ego through self-indulgent delusions bolstered by those who benefit financially from her generosity, but this would be a very cynical outlook. There is a deep heart and sincerity to "Florence Foster Jenkins," one that is very endearing even if it feels overlong and mostly drawn out to squeeze a couple more tears from the audience. Mostly, this is an amusing, irresistible film about a woman you should probably know about if you're into music. Check it out if you're into such things.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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