Friday, August 12, 2016
Florence Foster Jenkins demands your laughter, then punishes you for even thinking about it.
Review by Matt CummingsTo be fair and completely honest, the period dramedy Florence Foster Jenkins wasn't exactly on my list of summer-must-sees; and to its credit, the film is well cast, proficiently acted and directed, and looks terrific. But the final effect is missing something, and I think I have the answer. For New York patron of the arts Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep), life for the 1940's socialite is filled with music and lavish gatherings. But Florence hides two important secrets: she contracted syphilis from her first husband, and as a result she cannot hear herself too well. She also desires to be an opera singer, but is blissfully unaware that she can't sing. I mean she's awful, dreadful, even comical according to some. But her husband St Clair (Hugh Grant) dutifully supports her anyways by hiring a pianist Cosme (Simon Helberg), who is also unaware of her issue until she begins to belt out one disaster after another. Florence also doesn't realize that St Clair has a rowdy girlfriend (Rebecca Ferguson), and that he dashes out at night while her illness has left her bald and quite physically damaged. As her desire to perform in public grows (but her singing fails to improve), Cosme and St Clair struggle to keep Florence grounded, even though she books an evening at the venerable Carnegie Hall. Unaware of the impending wave of negative criticism she's about to unleash against herself, Florence Foster Jenkins steps onto the stage determined to live out her life's ambition, even if it kills her. At first glance, one might assume that FFJ is all about a self-delusional woman whose incredible wealth allowed her to live a life that many would consider overly privileged. But the film directed by Steven Frears attempts to make Jenkins both a comic figure and a tragic lesson about the vanity that can sometimes upend people in their pursuit of dreams they have no business attempting. While I'm not one to squash someone's dreams, the sheer lunacy of singing in public when one simply cannot is a recipe for a disastrous end. And sadly, that's what happened: Jenkins, upon learning for the first time about her performance, suffered a heart attack two days later and died a month after that. It's a devastating ending to a story that seemed so prime for a feel-good moment; but FFJ too suffers from a serious shortfall that ultimately upends our appreciation and empathy for her. Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.