‘Florence Foster Jenkins’
Florence Foster Jenkins gets off to an inauspicious start. Prior to her entrance on stage at a club she formed, Florence (Streep) and her husband, St. Clair (Grant), are backstage having a little couple’s pep talk. Sounds innocent enough but there’s just one problem: They jokingly use fairly common German words like “schnell” and “wunderbar” during this scene. So the first note I take is “Why in the world are these characters speaking any German in New York City in 1944?” So, we’re off to a rocky start but soon enough, it’ll be fine, right?
Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of one of the most miserable movie-going experiences in my life. Florence Foster Jenkins, written by first-time feature writer Nicholas Martin and directed by the usually reliable Stephen Frears, is at its best failed Oscar bait that could have been released in 2004. Streep is her usual great self. It takes quite a bit of talent to be that awful at something and she is totally game.
Streep’s character, however, is only exposed in bit and pieces that don’t add up to a whole person. Hugh Grant gets to show that he has some acting chops but outside of a scene where he quotes Shakespeare to Florence as she falls asleep, his St. Clair character is nothing special. While Grant is able to hold his own, Big Bang Theory star Simon Helberg looks totally miscast as the Irish-American piano player Cosme McMoon. Granted, McMoon is a dull character but Helberg is totally outgunned by a virtuoso like Streep, especially in the one scene they have together in his apartment. It becomes quite apparent real quick that the McMoon character exists just so someone can play the piano.
Simple enough, right? Just a movie that misses the intended mark but is inoffensive, right? Not so fast. A big problem that becomes quite apparent quite quickly is that every single character is a terrible person. First, St. Clair has a girl on the side and the both of them live on Florence’s dime. Florence’s voice coach is a sleaze bag who willingly takes her money without helping her get better but tries to weasel his way out of attending her performance and show his support for her. The club she founded revels in her awfulness and has parties after her performances without her knowledge. Some friends…
Before I move on, I must warn you that I will be spoiling the entire final 25 minutes so if for some reason you still want to see this and want to be surprised, skip to the last paragraph.
Eventually, Florence books a gig at Carnegie Hall and sells out the show. As she begins singing, the crowd, mostly full of soldiers with free tickets, begins laughing at her, only to be shushed by one of the club member’s young wives. Eventually, the crowd begins cheering for Florence’s awful singing. Everybody loves her, except for one guy: the theatre critic for the New York Post. In an exchange you could see coming from a mile away, St. Clair mocks the critic by pointing out the thunderous applause coming from the Hall. The next morning, despite his best effort, Florence eventually reads his review (with the clickbait-y title “Florence Foster Jenkins: The Worst Singer Ever”) and promptly has a heart attack and dies in her bed sometime later with St. Clair by her side while dreaming of her perception of her final performance.
That’s right, the critic killed the artist. In the opinion of the filmmakers, art and the artist are infallible. As long as there is a group of people watching or observing something, the filmmakers say “Hey, that’s art!” Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but what about those who find the art in question to not be good? Florence Foster Jenkins and its creators believe that you are the problem, so much so that they are, literally, killing art. The problem with this particular piece of art making that argument, apart from the fact that the movie is awful, is that there are scenes where St. Clair openly bribes the critics to write positive reviews in the morning papers, including offering $500 to the Post critic in the scene mentioned above.
Florence Foster Jenkins should have been the annual “Meryl Streep push for an Oscar” movie. Instead, it’s a disaster with questionable little details, underdeveloped and unlikable characters, and an anti-criticism message it has not earned the right to make. Few movies this summer have gotten my blood boiling more than this insult of a motion picture.
0 out of 5