Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Steep) is a wealthy socialite whose greatest desire is to sing opera. Florence is encouraged by Arturo Toscanini (John Kavanagh) and by her husband, St. Claire Bayfield. (Hugh Grant) The problem is, Florence can’t sing very well. Undaunted, she hires a vocal coach, and a pianist, Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) McMoon seems bewildered by the fact that he is playing classical music for a woman who can’t sing.
Bayfield continues to carefully manage Florence’s career, keeping mockers and negative reviewers at bay, sometimes bribing reviewers to keep their views secret. This is not the only deception that Bayfield is practicing, he is carrying on an affair with a woman named Kathleen. (Rebecca Ferguson) Seemingly oblivious to the deception around her, Florence cuts a record of the song, “Like A Bird.” The song is a hit with the troops fighting in WWII, so Florence plans a concert at Carnegie Hall, and has already given away thousands of troops coming home from the war. Bayfield and McMoon worry that they will no longer be able to control the scoffers, and that Florence Foster Jenkins feelings will be crushed when the truth is revealed. Doess the Carnegie Hall show go on? What is the crowd and critical reaction to the show?
The story of Florence Foster Jenkins portrayed in the movie seems historically accurate, and I was happy to learn her story, but the story lacked any sense of conflict. Her husband cheated on her, she had an STD, and she couldn’t sing very well, yet this movie seems to accept all these facts at face value, and have no conflict stemming from any one of these things, makes for a very dull film. It tries to be a screwball comedy, like the movies Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn used to make, but falls short. The comedy relies on one joke, Florence can’t sing, and everyone knows it but Florence, the old Emperor Has No Clothes story, but it never goes anywhere, and the tacked on ending doesn’t help matters any.
Meryl Steep is not great in this film. I never lost myself in this performance. I always thought “Oh there’s Meryl Steep playing someone.” And Streep is supposed to be the queen of accents, muddles the accent here, sometimes it’s a British accent, sometimes an American accent, and Jenkins was born in Pennsylvania. She does not deserve an Oscar nomination in my opinion. Hugh Grant tries to play a Cary Grant type roguish character, a loveable playboy, but Hugh Grant is not Cary Grant, and lacks both the charm and wit that Cary Grant possessed. Simon Helberg plays a version of his character on The Big Bang Theory, and he’s not very funny.
Stephen Frears is a good director, he’s directed movies like High Fidelity, and Dangerous Liaisons, but he misses the mark here. Florence Foster Jenkins is not funny enough to be a comedy or dramatic enough to be a drama, so it muddles along in some middle ground. The pacing is poor because there is not enough material here for a 2 hour film and so, the middle of the movie drags Frears does not get especially good performances from any of the actors, so the combination of bad pacing, mediocre performances and a bad script, are all things that Frears had a say over and didn’t do enough to change the uninteresting elements.
Florence Foster Jenkins: Don’t go with the Flo.