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Review: Florence Foster Jenkins


Review: Florence Foster Jenkins

Andrew Gurr

Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep as the titular character, Hugh Grant as St. Clair Bayfield and Simon Helberg as Cosme McMoon, is nothing short of a comedic delight, bringing laughter and a touch of sentiment throughout.

Directed by Stephen Frears, the film explores the true story of opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins through the late stages of her life in 1944 New York. Historically known for her lack of singing skills, yet steadfast and determined in the face of criticism, Jenkins strives to get back into singing and become an opera performer in her elderly years. Out of kindness, her husband (Hugh Grant) and pianist (Simon Helberg) are unable to admit to her that she has no talent, and instead help her to reach her goal. What ensues is absolute hilarity as Jenkins meanders her way from show to show, impressing absolutely no one yet gaining fame for all the wrong reasons.

Hugh Grant shines in his role as St. Clair Bayfield, setting up much of the comedic action through his character’s attempts to keep the harsh critics at bay whilst staying as charming as ever. Meanwhile, Meryl Streep also utilises her role to full effect, playing Jenkins as a flamboyant and delusional character swept up in self-indulgency who sources comedy from her flat and off-pitch singing.

Unfortunately the film does little in its introduction to show what it is really all about, with not much done to reveal Jenkins’ singing career that had begun many years before upon her wealthy father’s death, instead solely focussing on the final year of her life. This collection of funds is what allows Jenkins the ability to perform, book out theatres, make recordings and to open the Verdi Club, the latter of which is shown early in the film. Hence the pacing is quite slow initially, potentially leaving viewers who have not seen a trailer to wonder where the film might be going. Once Jenkins begins to sing, however, the trajectory of the plot becomes clear.

The setting of 1944 New York is well constructed throughout, with eccentric on-stage, contemporary costumes for Jenkins really making their mark. The film mostly takes place in indoor settings rather than outdoor ones, which does make the viewer sometimes forget the world the characters are surrounded by. The viewer is frequently reminded of the Second World War though, with soldiers holding a major role in the final act of the film.

Overall, Florence Foster Jenkins is a feel-good comedic piece with high-class performances from Hugh Grant and Meryl Streep, which may leave some in absolute tears with the woeful singing of the main character. While there are moments of sadness and high emotion at times, the film will leave a lasting impression upon all.