By Phillip Guy Ellis (Northampton, England)
Star – Meryl Streep & Hugh Grant Genre
Comedy Run Time – 1 hr 51 minutes
Certificate – PG13
Oscars – 2 Nominations
Awards – 8 Wins & 38 Nominations
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Florence Foster Jenkins was a real life lady and socialite who loved to be on stage and enjoyed singing and acting in her own club back in the first half of the 20th century. Trouble is she was pretty terrible and should have stuck to running the club; her singing mocked to legendary levels, hence the book and then the films, Marguerite, the French version of this movie.
It stars our greatest screen actor, Meryl Streep, who picked up her twentieth Oscar nomination for it. She has won 3 Oscars to date: The Iron Lady (2012), Sophie’s Choice (1983) and Kramer V Kramer (1980). Interestingly nine of those nominations have come this century, debunking the idea older women don’t get great rolls in Hollywood. She is now 68 and won nothing until her 32nd birthday, getting better and better with age with those 10 nominations 9 The Post (2017) the latest) since her 51st birthday. She has also won 8 Golden Globes from 30 nominations, 3 Prime time Emmy’s and 2 BAFTAs. Cannes, alas, didn’t warm to her and just one solitary gong back in 1980. Her co-star for the film in the likeable Hugh Grant has just a single Golden Globe to his name for Four Weddings. He was actually semi-retired when director Stephen Frears convinced him to star in this. Grant said he participated in the film to act opposite Meryl Streep, no other reason. Cheeky Meryl’s putdown on her leading man as her romantic interest is worth quoting; “I always thought I was too old for Hugh. But he got older.”
Frears had little interest in his movie until he read up on Florence. He noted – “They were all laughing at her on stage and yet she touches you. It’s inherently ridiculous and courageous at the same time.” Both Frears and Streep were determined that despite the subject matter that the audience should side with Florence. Streep is a game old bird and worked with a singing coach to help her prepare for the role of Jenkins.
• Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins
• Hugh Grant as St. Clair Bayfield
• Simon Helberg as Cosmé McMoon
• Rebecca Ferguson as Kathleen Weatherley
• Nina Arianda as Agnes Stark
• Stanley Townsend as Phineas Stark
• Allan Corduner as John Totten
• Christian McKay as Earl Wilson
• David Haig as Carlo Edwards
• John Sessions as Dr. Hermann
• Bríd Brennan as Kitty
• John Kavanagh as Arturo Toscanini
• Pat Starr as Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney
• Maggie Steed as Mrs. James O’Flaherty
• Thelma Barlow as Mrs. Oscar Garmunder
• Liza Ross as Mrs. E.E. Patterson
• Paola Dionisotti as Baroness Le Feyre
• Rhoda Lewis as Mrs. Patsy Snow
• Aida Garifullina as Lily Pons
• Nat Luurtsema as Tallulah Bankhead
• Mark Arnold as Cole Porter
New York City heiress and socialite Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep), who founded the Verdi Club to celebrate a passionate love for opera and music, is enjoying being on stage as a non-speaking actor. But she wants more and as World War Two rages and the U.S. body count rises she convinces her husband and manager.” St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), a fading British Shakespearean actor, to help her take singing lessons to entertain the troops one day.
Despite being married to Florence they have a plutonic relationship in separate abodes. Florence lives in a grand hotel suite while St. Clair resides in an apartment in the city with his secret mistress, Kathleen Weatherly (Rebecca Ferguson), all paid for from Florence’s inheritance. She is probably aware of that ‘arrangement’ but never lets on as she loves her husband. Florence has suffered from syphilis all of her adult life, which she contracted from her first husband at just 18-years old. The illness has caused her to have lots of health problems for which she needs treatment, including mercury and arsenic medicating, which obviously has bad toxic side effects.
To sing again she hires pianist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg) and regular vocal coach, Carlo Edwards (David Haig), the assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. McMoon is shocked to the point of laughter to discover that Florence is a terrible singer, but Bayfield and Edwards have to pretend she is wonderful, if just out of love and loyalty.
When she is ready to showcase her still terrible singing talents, Bayfield organizes for a small recital at the Verdi, hand-picking people allowed to buy tickets to avoid mockery. On the night of the performance, loyal members of the club sit respectfully, but titters break out and others can barely contain their laughter, St. Clair slinging out the dissenters so they just about get away with it, without Florence getting too upset and her husband hiding all the bad reviews the next day, the good reviews coming from writers paid off by St Clair.
Feeling uplifted by her recital’s good reviews, she secretly makes a recording of her singing as a Christmas gift for the Verdi Club. Florence gives McMoon a copy of the record, which leads to her recalling that Bayfield was not always a very successful actor and how she hid negative reviews to protect his feelings, unaware that’s exactly what he has been doing. But emboldened even more when her record is played on the radio she decides to put on a huge show for the troops in Carnegie Hall, that even her husband won’t be able to control the outcome of.
I’m generally not into pearls, hats, velvet dinner jackets and period Downtown Abbey stuff but this had great reviews and Meryl Streep so why not? She is such a great actor and can do just about anything on screen and so always watchable. I guarantee you guys will not be able to hold back the laughs when she sings. Stephen Frears praised her performance by stating: “You can only sing badly if you are good singer.” Hugh Grant is not stretched playing a failed actor though but has become somewhat warmer these days and fun on screen. His looks are going fast though and does not look as good as Liz Hurley does at 50, especially in a bikini.
It’s very much frivolous music hall style comedy and lite watching with no intellectual points being made or over-acting and keeping it simple, a fable about a woman who couldn’t sing but we love her for trying. I guess there were a lot of those moneyed decadent characters around at that time. This world is always good for films as the actors can ham it up and get away with it. Hugh and Streep go to town.
I just about got into the swing of it and if I can then you can. It’s for an older audience but well done for what it is. Frears knows the period genre well and delivers. But it’s not as good as I thought it would be and although I wasn’t expecting Remains’ of the Day (my favorite Merchant Ivory type film ever) I wanted a little bit more here. Streep fans only.
IMDb.com – 6.9/10.0 (38,234votes)
Rottentomatos.com – 74% critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – 71% critic’s approval
Rating: 3/5BEST QUOTES