People may say I couldn’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.
Florence Foster Jenkins is based on the true story of a music-loving socialite in 40s era New York City. She dearly loves performing for family and friends; there’s only one problem: she can’t sing. At all. A French movie called Marguerite came out earlier this year that was inspired by this woman, though the story didn’t follow the real life Jenkins’ life at all. It was a dire, dreadful mess. This movie, on the other hand, is quite wonderful. It has a spring in its step and a sparkle in its eye, but it doesn’t shy away from the darker parts of Jenkins’ life – the moments when we find out about some of the tragedies in her past are among the strongest in the film, surprising as they are, so I refuse to spoil any of them here. Meryl Streep is an actress that, believe it or not, I’ve always been mixed on, but this film plays to her strengths and she’s really wonderful, giving one of her two or three best performances, I’d say. She finds the comedy in the moments when Florence is ridiculous or pretentious, but it’s the quiet, more dramatic scenes where you see her real talent come out. Hugh Grant, lured out of a semi-retirement in order to act opposite Streep, plays her long-suffering husband and its either his best performance since About a Boy, back in 2001, or maybe his best performance full-stop. At first, he seems to be his usual, charming rake, but as the film progresses he grows increasingly emotionally complicated and it’s just . . . well, I already said it: probably his best performance. And I cannot say enough about Simon Helberg. You wouldn’t necessarily think, watching The Big Bang Theory, that he had anything like real comic genius (I mean, it’s a funny show, but . . . well, you know, it’s a cheesy sitcom). But his turn here as Cosme McMoon, Jenkins’ constantly abashed pianist, is nothing short of comedy genius. It’s one of the most finely tuned comic performances I’ve seen in a super-long time. I don’t know if we really have comedy stars anymore, but this is a star-making performance, whether we do or not. Nina Arianda is quite funny in a small role as well. All in all, I was super-surprised by this lovely film. The good reviews/response got me into the theater, but I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting anything approaching greatness. But that’s what I got really. It’s a great film that finds some really finely tuned comedy in the absurd subject matter, but digs, in a way I found really compelling and unexpected, below this level to make these people come alive and feel real. I went in expecting a level of cartoonishness, but while the film is certainly very silly at times, the characters are decidedly not cartoons, but real people who can be, as real people can be, of course, quite funny and also quite sad. It’s a beautiful movie, another absolute triumph for Frears. 4 stars.
tl;dr – charming & lovely film from Frears features a trio of brilliant lead performances; balances comedy and pathos in exactly the right measure & adds up to a surprisingly great triumph. 4 stars.