FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (6.5 out of 10) Directed by Stephen Frears; Written by Nicholas Martin; Starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg; Running time 110 minutes; Rated PG-13 for "brief suggestive material."; In wide release August 12, 2016.
Before Rebecca Black, before William Hung, before Mrs. Miller, America liked to laugh at people trying to sing who just. . . can't. The first of these may have been Florence Foster Jenkins, a major patron of the musical, theatre, and artistic community of New York in the first half of the 20th century.
The old adage goes "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice." Or, in Mrs. Jenkins' case-- fail upwards and become a surprising wartime hit, using your social position to get the privilege most can only dream of.
Perhaps the most interesting part of her story is that it's true. A classically trained pianist in her own right, her record has been continuously in print since her death and her concert at Carnegie Hall is one of the most requested recordings in the venue's archives. Without knowing these details, it would make Ms. Jenkins story seem preposterous.
Unfortunately, the film's biggest weakness is that it is, pardon the pun, rather one-note. The first time we hear Meryl Streep as Jenkins "sing," it is uproariously funny. But as time goes on, it ceases to be funny and you start to feel bad for her. You begin to feel as protective of her as her dutiful husband (played by Hugh Grant).
The best reason to watch are the performances of the main stars. You will never appreciate Streep's singing abilities more than understanding how hard it is for a person who has been nominated for an Oscar for a singing role to sing badly. Grant is as charming as ever, and you're left wondering if he is the most devoted husband ever or the world's biggest scoundrel. Even Simon Helberg is given a lot to do, and you gain even more respect for the erstwhile ubergeek when you realize he is actually playing these complicated piano pieces. Bravo to all three of you, and to the supporting cast (including an excellent Christian McKay, unfortunately underutilized as a critic who excoriates Jenkins in the New York Post).
The film's message of following your passion despite criticism from naysayers or lack of actual talent shines through. Decide for yourself how responsible a message that is, but to the YouTube generation it may be even more poignant than expected-- especially coming from a film most directed towards women of a certain age.
Like Jenkins herself, the film's charms outweigh its flaws, but is more a curiosity and almost instantly forgettable. And just think-- in 70 years we'll have Rebecca Black: The Movie to look forward to. Fun fun fun. We we we so excited.
6.5 out of 10
Tags: Meryl Streep