Florence Foster Jenkins

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Most of us love some form of art.  Music, film, painting…we all have that certain “thing” that touches are hearts in just the right way.  Some of us even dream of being a great singer, a supremely talented actor or a critically acclaimed painter.  But few of us have the talent to pursue those dreams.
But is art always about pure talent?  If you love an art enough, don’t you owe it to yourself to chase that dream?
Florence Foster Jenkins is a film about love, loyalty and the guts to pursue them no matter what.  The story doesn’t take any unexpected turns and takes a bit of a swipe at a certain group of film fans that’s unnecessary .   But the characters are the real reason to watch this film and lift it above its flaws.
The film brings us to New York in 1944, where rich heiress Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) is an eccentric patron of the arts, especially music.  She believes she is a popular woman with some of the great musical artists of New York.  She is supported by her husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) a former actor who protects her from the reality of the situation:  They all simply want her money.
Bayfield’s desire to protect Jenkins is complicated by the latter’s desire to sing live in front of an audience.   The problem here is that Jenkins cannot sing.  At all.  At first, Bayfield is able to fill small venues with “real music lovers” (Basically friends or critics he can pay off) to satisfy her desire, but her dreams begin to get bigger and bigger.  Eventually, Jenkins path leads to Carnegie Hall.
Florence Foster Jenkins is a charming under dog story, but it pretty much follows the same beats as other similar films.  It really won’t surprise you in any way, but it’s so well done you won’t really notice.  It’s a feel good film and you come out of it feeling good.
The way the film handles Jenkins lack of singing ability is handled in a fun but respectful way.  She is bad to the point where you will laugh, but it never feels mean.  They also don’t sugarcoat her lack of talent either…she’s pretty bad.  But in the end, it doesn’t matter.
Ultimately, this is a movie about love and the determination to pursue it.  At one point, Jenkins says, “They can say that I’m the worst singer…but they can’t say I never sang.”  If you love something enough, be it music, baseball or delivering the mail, you have to at least try.  Jenkins’ single mindedness inspires loyalty in those closest to her.
Meryl Streep is as good as ever in the title role.  And while the character is pretty much one note, that note is incredibly likeable.  Her eccentricities and almost child-like love for music make Jenkins incredibly likable.  It’s not ego that drives her, it’s pure love.
However, the real fun is in the supporting cast.  Simon Helberg is great as the twitchy pianist Cosme McMoon.  At first, the soft spoken McMoon is horrified at the idea of Jenkins singing in public…especially with him playing on the same stage.  However, he begins to admire her.   I’ll be honest here:  I’m not a fan of Helberg’s best known role on The Big Bang Theory.   However, he is very likeable here.  He does mug a bit, but it fits the character he plays.
And while her role is small, Nina Arianda does a lot with her limited screen time as the trophy wife of a wealthy patron.  She is very funny.
But the standout is Hugh Grant.  Bayfield is not a perfect man.  He has another girlfriend (Rebecca Ferguson) and seems to have only married Jenkins for her money.  However, as the film goes on Bayfield reveals how devoted he is to her.
Grant could have played Bayfield in a stereotypical way.  He could have been a jerk early in the film, but he’s charming throughout.  And while he does have that relationship with Ferguson’s character Kathleen, he still dotes on Jenkins.  In other words, Bayfield is a real person and Grant convinces us of that.  His slow revelation about love and loyalty are great to watch.  It’s some of the best work I’ve seen him do.
There is a bit that bothers me.  There is a critic who writes a scathing review of one of Jenkins’ performances after refusing bribes…and he’s portrayed as a villain.
The film seems to say that sometimes art is just entertainment.  That those who think it’s “important” are taking things too seriously.  I can’t help but feel like this is a bit of a poke at film lovers and critics who probably annoy filmmakers.  Maybe I’m looking too deeply into it.
In the end, Florence Foster Jenkins is a good film for anyone who has ever dreamed the impossible.  Bring your aspiring artists to it!
Score: 7 out of 10