Monday, April 17, 2017

Florence Foster Jenkins: Rich Characters, Great Actors, a Story Worth Telling

Movie Review: Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
Version: Library Borrow

The Academy Awards recognized a full spectrum of very interesting movies this year, and Florence Foster Jenkins was one of them, its leading actress, Meryl Steep, the main reason to watch. However, the film included rave performances by Streep's leading man, Hugh Grant, and the grand supporting actor acknowledged with a nomination, Simon Helberg.

That said, what a strange bird this tale is. Streep plays the title character, Florence Foster Jenkins, a well-off turn-of-the-20th-century society woman who fashions herself not just an opera buff, but a talented singer. She is encouraged by her more realistic yet doting husband, St Clair Bayfield, played by Hugh Grant, who is willing to spend plenty of Jenkins' money to keep her happy. In fact, he hires the city's renown orchestral conductor to tutor Jenkins and Helberg's character Cosme McMoon, a struggling professional concert pianist, to play for her. Bayfield also pays people to attend Jenkins' performances. She doesn't sing at all well.

Jenkins is oblivious to her failures while giving her all to her efforts. Helberg provides a wonderful performance as the epitome of the professional who recognizes the hopelessness of her dreams, giving fun facial expressions as Jenkins fails time after time to reach notes or carry tunes, yet is humane in his appreciation for her hopes and desire not to see her embarrassed.

Yet, this film isn't a comedy. And it isn't fiction. Florence Foster Jenkins was a real person and this story is real. It's actually a love story.

Without giving away too much of the story -- because I'd love for you to see this very human story -- it is safe to say that Jenkins was sick and her husband Bayfield, who you might have been tempted to think was trying to live comfortably off of her riches, was at least also trying to help her live comfortably in her final days. He deeply loved a woman he couldn't physically love. And so he provided for her by indulging the fantasy she held that she could sing the opera that she so loved. McMoon loved her spirit and her appreciation for the art. Together, they supported her in her last days.

If you are tempted to laugh at her in the beginning of the film, you will learn to admire her courage and love her verve. And you will join in the appreciation the crowds come to find in the gift Jenkins bestows on them by giving her all of herself.

Meryl Streep put herself out there professionally to play someone who couldn't sing worth a tin nickel. Streep is a fine singer and has sung in other performances. But she proved herself the ultimate professional playing this part. It's worth seeing this film just to see her play this part to deftly. It's also worth it to see Helberg react to her miss all of those notes.

This may not have seemed like the movie you were dying to see. But honestly, I urge you to see Florence Foster Jenkins at least once. See the story that great actors risk to take on because the characters are that rich and, in the end, the story is worth the telling.

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