August 15, 2016
Florence Foster Jenkins
As the only person in my immediate family that is not gifted with the ability to sing, I have great respect for those who do, and equal respect for those who do not attempt to share talents of which they do not possess.
Neither was the gift of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York socialite and musical arts patron in the 1940s whose love of music was only surpassed by her attempts to rise to the ranks of master singers, but who fell short, with the results being mere cacophony, catalyzing the raising of eyebrows and stilted guffaws of audience members – at least the ones who were not paid to lend support to the effort.
Three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep stars as Florence Foster Jenkins in the fact-based film of the same title. Streep, in the role of the vocally challenged opera singer, has a tour de force on her hands.
Director Stephen Frears, who also brought us “The Queen,” manages to balance humor with poignancy, and brings us a film with great heart.
That Streep’s performance is stellar and enjoyable is not surprising, but what is also encouraging is the performance by Hugh Grant, who portrays St. Clair Bayfield, the manager/husband of Jenkins who has a girlfriend on the side but certainly also great love of the ill-fated singer. Grant is quite convincing in the role, although he clearly falls back on some of the trademark facial gestures and stammers of which audiences have grown fond during his career.
Perhaps most impressive in the film is the work done by actor Simon Helberg, who plays Jenkins’ piano accompanist, Cosme McMoon. Best known for his role as Howard Wolowitz on the CBS television sitcom, “Big Bang Theory,” Helberg captures a strong sense of character with his reactions to Jenkins’ singing and then, ultimately, his growing fondness for the performer. In short, Helberg creates a big bang with his performance, and my theory is that he will earn an Oscar nomination in the category Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Although the singing of the character Florence Foster Jenkins falls flat, the film itself is cinematically appealing.