REVIEW: Streep, Grant Shine In The Fantastic ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

Meryl Streep could very well get some award attention again for her performance but Hugh Grant shouldn’t be overlooked in this picture.

“Florence Foster Jenkins” follows the story of a real life New York City woman who was heavily involved in the area’s musical scene. While she knew and was on largely good terms with many of NYC’s musicians, artists and composers, though, she herself didn’t have the best singing talent.

The film picks up with her taking singing lessons in 1944 with help from her husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) and a young composer named Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg). Despite her continued practice, though, Jenkins doesn’t particularly improve over time. However, Jenkins believes she’s a world class singer and it’s up to the film’s other character to help her continue to believe the product she’s putting out.

“Florence Foster Jenkins” is a wonderfully delightful dramadey from Director Stephen Frears, who’s recently helmed “The Queen” and “Philomena.” The film delivers both on the heartfelt drama that was Jenkins’ life, as she was living with an illness, as well as a significant bit of humor by way of other characters’ reactions to her less than stellar singing.

The only major issue comes from the fact that some of the transitions from humor to more dramatic moments weren’t always smooth. The film certainly has its moments when dealing with heavier topics and more comedic ones, but there were times that moving between the two felt a bit jarring.

This complaint remains a rather minor one, though, as much of the film remains on point from start to finish. The humor has fantastic comedic timing and some of the sadder moments are captured well.

This of course is partly thanks to another one of Streep’s masterful performances. In this picture, Florence Foster Jenkins is portrayed as a wealthy woman who already has many advantages in life and still wants to be a singer. This is never shown to come from a place of wanting more wealth, fame and attention, though.

Instead, it comes from the character’s profound love and admiration of music as an art form. Jenkins is shown to be completely loyal and supportive of the music industry and it’s the driving force behind her wanting to be part of it. All of this, of course, is sold exceptionally well by Streep. She convincingly portrays her character’s love of the arts and breathes life into the eccentric, yet caring Jenkins.

Matching Streep’s performance on screen is Grant, who gives one of the better performances of his career. Per usual, Grant is absolutely charming for most of his screen time. What really makes the performance work, though, is how well Grant plays the devoted husband. Maintaining Jenkins’ level of comfortableness on stage and in singing requires plenty of work and Grant portrays a level of exhaustion from doing so through his acting.

A bit hit or miss in terms of performance was Simon Helberg who portrayed the composer McMoon. While Helberg had some fantastically funny moments, his first lesson working with Jenkins in particular delivering heavy laughs, there were times it seemed like he was overacting in the role. For the most part, Helberg did fine, but there were certainly a few moments where it seemed like he could have toned it down a bit.

Beyond the acting, another area that makes “Jenkins” work was the phenomenal recreation of 1940s New York City. Like last year’s film “Brooklyn,” this movie perfectly captures a time decades gone by, displaying the fashion, vehicles and street corners of the famous metropolis.

As a period piece, biopic, comedy and drama, “Florence Foster Jenkins” succeeds. It tells the story of a deeply caring, albeit quirky woman who loved and was loved by others. Even with a few issues, this picture largely works as one of the most elegant movies so far this year. Low 4 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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