If you watched the movie, Florence Foster Jenkins and didn’t know that it was based on a true story, you might have thought that the story was poorly written and unbelievable. However, with the exception of a character or two, the whole story is true. The film fixates on an unlikely grouping of people and situations that shouldn’t fit together, but somehow they do and do quite nicely.
The details of the story of Florence Foster Jenkins are also quite shocking. The living arrangements of the characters feels more like 2016 than it does the 1940’s when this true story takes place. The entire story is quite bizarre and yet very touching.
Meryl Streep plays the title role of Florence who is sort of like that one crazy aunt that every family has and loves. Florence has a dream of becoming a singer and she has the money to make her dream a reality, but she is lacking one thing: talent.
The film briefly mentions that many years before, Florence eloped with a man who was much older than her and promptly gave her syphilis. They divorced fairly early into their marriage, but as there was no cure for the disease back then, she was treated with some horrendous medication that made her hair fall out and possibly aided her odd fear of sharp objects and other unusual behavior.
Early on in her life, she met St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), a struggling English actor who took on the role as her manager. The two had a unique common law type of “marriage” where they abstained from any sexual contact. Because of this, Bayfield led two lives: one being the public husband of Florence and the other as single man living with his girlfriend in an apartment that his “wife” paid for.
It is clear that everyone who meets Florence ends up loving her and because they do, none of them feel that they can tell her that she is a terrible singer. Of course, some of these people have ulterior motives. Florence receives voice lessons from one of New York’s most prestigious teachers who tells Florence everything that she wants to hear with phrases like, “I’ve never heard another singer like you” and “you’ve never sounded better.” However, he isn’t about to tell her how he really feels and lose the high paying gig nor would he like it if word ever got out that he was her teacher.
As Florence becomes more convinced that she wants to perform, Bayfield is on a search for a pianist to accompany her. He chooses Cosme McMoon (The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg), an effeminate and soft spoken man to fill the bill. Cosme is confused by Florence’s “talent,” but is enchanted by his boss’ personality and doesn’t have the heart to tell Florence that she lacks any real talent. Meanwhile, the audiences that flock to hear Florence sing love her performances but for all the wrong reasons.
Florence Foster Jenkins is a gentle comedy with a few laugh out loud moments. Streep is perfect for the role (of course) but then again, so is Grant and Helberg. Stay for the end credits to hear a recording of the real Florence and you’ll be that much more impressed with Streep’s performance.
While this film has a built in audience of senior citizens, I encourage those much younger to take a chance on this heartfelt comedy as well. You won’t regret it.
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.