Florence Foster Jenkins is yet again proof that Meryl Streep will be remembered as one of the best actors of the past 100 years. She has been challenged with heartbreaking roles such as Silkwood, Doubt and Sophie’s Choice. As well as crowd pleasing and award winning turns in film’s like Devil wears Prada, It’s Complicated and even Mamma Mia. So with that amazing range under her belt what would happen if Meryl Streep had to be awful? And I don’t mean an evil character, I mean straight up awful and blissfully unaware of that. Well, Florence Foster Jenkins shows she can do that too.
Florence Foster Jenkins is based on the incredible true story about the titular character, who in real life dreamt of being a concert pianist but an injury in her youth deterred that. But now that she is an extremely wealthy woman, her new dream is to simply perform at Carnegie Hall. A simple dream but it requires one thing she is lacking. An ability to sing. Armed with an overly supportive husband in St Clair Bayfield (a subtle turn from Hugh Grant) and a skilled pianist in Cosme McMoon (a standout role from Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg), they practise and practise as they prepare for her grand singing debut.
One thing the film does really well is make the characters human and allow the good and bad to shine through. This is typical of films by Stephen Frears whose past work on The Queen and Philomena has shown that we all have flaws. St Clair seems like the most supportive husband but there is a side to him that is lying to Florence, Cosme sees an amazing opportunity to play Carnegie hall but spends most of his rehearsals holding in laughs at the singing, and Florence? Well she just expects everyone to love her. Even her most staunch supporters see her as a ‘benefactor’ and an open purse, devoid of any real tact. It’s hard to be happy for anyone, and this builds more and more until the promised performance that closes the film.
However while the character work is exactly what you expect from the high calibre of performers on screen, Streep obviously, the film’s true life story isn’t the most engaging on its own. This is at its core a story about the unlimited excess of wealth. If she wanted to buy Carnegie Hall for a night, that wouldn’t faze her. And because of that simple truth, the film spends a whole lot of time creating a reason for there to be some tension. It’s at these laboured story B-plots that drag the film towards its inevitable and sadly expected ending.
SUMMARY: Florence Foster Jenkins is another example of how skilled Meryl Streep is, but a strong supporting team of actors with some assured direction from Stephen Frears makes this potential one trick pony highly watchable. It’s such a shame that the story had to force such tension where it didn’t to do to get it over the 90 minute mark.
Buy or Rent Florence Foster Jenkins on DVD & Digital Download 6th October. Check the eOne website for further details.