I love movies. I love writing about them. Hope you like reading what I write.
With almost twenty academy award nominations to her name, Meryl Streep is once again in Oscar territory again with a film about a woman struggling with a particular defect in her abilities who also happened to exist and have a posh accent. Oscar breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Florence Foster Jenkins tells the story of a socialite of New York of the same name who had dreams of becoming a singer. With the help of her husband, she was able to become an enormous hit. The only trouble was that she couldn’t sing.
When I say that she couldn’t sing, don’t just take my word for it. Foster Jenkins was quite possibly the most famous bad singer of all time. And yet famous she was. For reasons ranging from possible bribery to the fact that people just loved to ridicule her, tickets to see her perform were in enormous demand.
Enough about the truth for now, let’s talk about the art.
The highlight to this film are the performances. Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant steal the show as Florence and her husband St Clair Bayfield.
Streep, of course, is brilliant. As someone who can actually sing well, she can perfectly capture singing badly. And I mean on purpose, not like when she completely destroyed The “Winner Takes it All” in Mamma Mia.
The build up to the first scene in which she sings is utterly perfect. I already knew what was coming as I’d heard about Jenkins before this movie, but the laws of comic reveals dictate to the audience that all the talk of her being a great performer may consist of a lot more hot-air than she might think.
When the scene finally does happen, I was properly snickering. I don’t even do that sort of laugh in movies. I was feeling a little guilty as I almost felt part of the moment, in a room with an old woman giving her all and in a delusion of brilliance, but failing at a catastrophic level.
Hugh Grant as Bayfield gives the best performance I’ve seen from him. He still does his overly polite British stereotype routine, but it is touched with an imperfection that you rarely see in the characters he most often plays.
This film, I’d say should feature in a double-bill with The King’s Speech. Both meld comedic and tear-producing scenes with pretty much flawless energy. Both are pretty much perfect, though obvious Oscar bait and completely unchallenging.
It is definitely a good film. Like I said I did laugh when it was trying to be funny and call me an old sop but I did end up crying on a few occasions. Whether certain private details about the story were indeed wholly accurate is something I cannot prove. History, of course, is something to be put in textbooks while film is where you put drama and this is a really good little drama.
However, there is something that has been niggling at me since I saw this movie, but if I write about it, I’ll risk some spoilers. So in order to go into it I’m going to have a “spoiler-section”.
<BEGINNING OF SPOILER SECTION HIGHLIGHT THE AREA BELOW>
Florence performs at a concert at Carnegie hall, giving away 1000 tickets to the soldiers who have been fighting in the Second World War which is still raging.
Of course when she starts to sing, the soldiers, being already inebriated, begin to jeer before being put in their place in very Hollywood style.
The problem I have, and this is might well be a personal thing, is that the soldiers, the boys that Jenkins is constantly praising throughout the film, are portrayed uncomplicatedly as rowdy monsters.
I’m perfectly fine with them being rowdy, after all these are young men on leave trying to have a good time, but it would have been fitting to have at least one of them, perhaps a wounded Private offer some appreciation to Jenkins. I mean, we’re already in Hollywood cheese country, so why not?
They do have a scene where an Officer thanks her for the tickets, but I just don’t think it was respectful enough to the soldiers.
<END OF SPOILER SECTION>
Despite any small niggles, this is a genuinely good movie and I really think it deserves a viewing.
There was a fascinating video released by John Green on the vlogbrothers YouTube channel discussing FFJ. In it he discussed what it means when someone is famous for being terrible at what they are passionate about. He concluded that in a bizarre way Jenkins is an inspirational figure to all of us summarising the whole thing through the now famous quote from the amateur opera star:
“They may say that I couldn’t sing, but nobody can say that I didn’t sing.”
Recommended Scenario: When you want an Oscar bait film, that is good, outside of Oscar season.