Florence Foster Jenkins review: Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant hit the right notes in this Stephen Frears directed comedy drama about the world’s best worst singer.
Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant lead the cast of the Stephen Frears directed film which focusses the true events of the latter days of America socialite, Florence Foster Jenkins. Here’s our Florence Foster Jenkins review.
Stephen Frears’ follow-up movie to last year’s impressive biopic The Program could not be any different, and here he teams with Nicholas Martin, a successful television writer behind episodes of Midsomer Murders, Soldier Soldier and Dalziel & Pascoe, for an brilliantly funny romp set in New York City towards the end of the second World War.
Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) was known for her very off-key performances as an opera singer, her appearances on-stage fully financed from her fortune left to her by her late father. At her side is St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), her common-law English husband and manager who continuously protects his other half from ridicule, and limits her live performances to a music club in the Grand Ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the city, where she would perform alongside her pianist Cosme McMoon (an exceptional Simon Helberg) to an extremely select audience. The story compacts Jenkins’ story down from many years into what seems like merely a couple of months, and packs in quite a lot into that period. Picking up from when the ‘singer’ decides to bring her talents before an audience, and eventually recording (in real life Jenkins’ Melotone Recording Studio sessions were conducted from 1941-1944), through to hiring the constantly tortured McMoon, and then ultimately performing in front of an audience at the famous Carnegie Hall, Frears’ film is ambitious in its coverage, but actually quite brilliant in its execution.
The film is genuinely funny, but at no point do we feel that we’re laughing at Jenkins. This is all down to Streep’s sympathetic, well honed, brilliant performance. The actress, who is clearly blessed with a wonderful singing voice that she’s demonstrated in numerous roles in the past, and indeed towards the end of this feature, effortlessly mimic’s Jenkins’ wonderful off-key singing voice, something that is actually really quite difficult to do. Streep’s turn as the title character is a worthy addition to her glittering resume, and could be her best performance this side of The Iron Lady. Hugh Grant also delivers in the role of Bayfield, Jenkins’ rock who divides his time between the eccentric singer and his girlfriend, Kathleen (another wonderful appearance from Rebecca Ferguson) who provides the actor/ manager with his other relationship needs. In supporting roles you have the excellent Nina Arianda (last seen in the Hannibal TV series) and British actor Christian McKay in the pivotal role as New York Post hack Earl Wilson. Also look out for a splendid extended cameo from celebrated actor, and, along with Grant, fellow Four Weddings and A Funeral alumni David Haig, as Jenkins’ singing coach Carlo Edwards.
While perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea (the film will definitely appeal to the older members of the cinema-going public, a la The King’s Speech and The Lady In The Van), Florence Foster Jenkins is largely enjoyable affair that most will take something away from.
A wonderful, laugh-out-loud romp featuring stellar performances from most of its cast, especially the central four actors in Streep, Grant, Helberg and Ferguson. Hilarious, heartfelt and genuinely touching in places, and unlike its title character, near note-perfect.
Florence Foster Jenkins review by Paul Heath, April 2016.
Florence Foster Jenkins is released in the U.K. on 6th May, 2016 and the U.S. on August 12th, 2016.