FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS
New York heiress and socialite Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) obsessively pursued her dream of becoming an opera singer. The voice she heard in her head was beautiful, but to everyone else - the private guests enjoying her lavishly catered concerts at her home - it was hilariously awful. Her manager and husband, St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), an aristocratic English actor, was determined to protect his beloved from the truth. But when Florence decided to give a public concert at Carnegie Hall in 1944, he knew it was only a matter of time before her beautiful dream would be shattered. (Based ona true story)
Review by Louise Keller:
Music, love and money are the three key ingredients of this unique tale into which director Stephen Frears has skillfully woven multiple layers of complexity. It is the portrayal of these complexities that are crucial to our understanding of the stage-managed life of Florence Foster Jenkins, embodied by ever-extraordinary Meryl Streep with wonderful largesse. Money talks - or sings in this case - in the true story about a woman of means whose musical aspirations lie beyond her talents. As for music and love, these are the areas in which deception plays a starring role. Comedy and tragedy are beautifully intertwined in this entertaining, intriguing and heartbreaking tale when our hearts sink and soar in equal proportions. The film may lack the soulful pathos of its award-winning French counterpart Marguerite (2015), but is nonetheless a delightful diversion.
Music matters: it is my life, says Jenkins (Streep), who we first meet in 1944 at New York's Verdi Club, of which she is patron. Her awkward descent on a rope dressed in a gaudy swan outfit playing 'an angel of inspiration' (physically and symbolically) is comic to the extreme. But we do not hear her sing. That dubious pleasure is saved for a later occasion and the expression on the face of her pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg, terrific), when he hears his patron sing for the first time is priceless. By then we have also met St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant, in a career best), Jenkins' husband: her greatest supporter.
Wearing a fat suit, wigs and an unflattering wardrobe of pastel-palette gowns, feathers and pearls, Streep delights in bringing something new to her already impressive repertoire. There is no question about Streep's own musical abilities and here her skill is to create a musically deficient character with both nuance and excess bordering on theatrical farce. Not easy to do. Just as she has played with accents in the past; here Streep plays with her voice, allowing the intonation, placement and physicality create the comedy.
Grant has never been so good. Here he is the epitome of strength as the caring husband, whose priority is to facilitate his wife's delusions. ('Love takes many forms.') It is credit to Grant that we do not judge St Clair for selling out or leading a double life with his mistress Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson). It is also a gift of a role for Helberg who gets to showcase his piano-playing skills as he makes us understand why McMoon opts for loyalty over ambition. The irony does not escape us that the loud, blonde showgirl (Nina Arianda, excellent) who initially ridicules Jenkins, does an about turn.
The production design is exquisite as is the attention to detail so that the spell is never broken. Emotionally, the film is rich and we waver between distaste, amusement, despair and delight.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Nicholas Martin's screenplay about wanna be wartime soprano, New York heiress Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep), is even more tragi-comic than the 2015 French riff on the story by Xavier Giannoli, Marguerite (Catherine Frot). Stephen Frears works the material and his terrific cast to perfection, eliciting empathy and sympathy for a woman who desperately loved music but to whom fate had denied a beautiful voice. Not that she knew that. Streep is heartbreaking and entertaining and fascinating as the unfortunate woman whose first husband (now dead) gave her syphilis. That disease had stopped her piano career. She turned to singing. Badly. As the blackly comic quip has it, "As one door shuts ... another one slams in your face"
But Florence bears her misfortunes bravely, supported by her adoring husband St Clair Blayfield (Hugh Grant), in a celibate marriage - thanks to the syphilis. Grant rises to the occasion and Frears is to be commended on daring to cast this high profile romantic lead as a complex, dramatic character, earning our trust and sympathies.
Adding immeasurably to the film's success is Simon Helberg as Florence's young accompanist, Cosme McMoon, whose emotional journey parallels the audience's to a large extent, from nervous, giggling disbelief to growing respect and understanding. Another terrific performance is Nina Arianda as Agnes Stark, the bimbo with great heart - and mischief. Rounding out the main players is Rebecca Ferguson as Blayfield's mistress, Kathleen, a modern young woman whose main interest is not Florence but Blayfield, yet she shows compassion.
It is instructive to note that the concert Florence staged starring herself at Carnegie Hall in 1944 - a vocal disaster - has become one of the most sought after recorded items in the Hall's archives. Her memory continues to be cherished - for the most simple reasons: she loved music, pursued her dream and never gave up. She was genuine - and this film captures that essential truth with brio.
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FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (PG)
CAST: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, John Kavanagh, Nina Arianda, Neve Gachev, Christian McKay, Mark Arnold,
PRODUCER: Michael Kuhn, Tracey Seaward
DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears
SCRIPT: Nicholas Martin
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Danny Cohen
EDITOR: Vakerio Bonelli
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alan MacDonald
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: eOne
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 5, 2016