Everyone’s A Critic: Florence Foster Jenkins

Have to admit, when I was setting all this up and considering my generally more mainstream appetite when it comes to films, I was not expecting my first review on here to be on the story of an opera singer. Far too cultured for the likes of popcorn junkies like me! But I’m being serious about all aspects of my writing on here so when I saw the film was for some reason being shown at my local cinema this weekend (despite the fact that apparently it doesn’t come out until May 6th), naturally I jumped at the chance to get ahead of the game. So here it is. Mr Everyone is now OFFICIALLY a critic. And by officially I of course mean as defined by myself and the amount of time more people like my writing than those who dislike it. How does Florence Foster Jenkins get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. A lot of practice. You would not believe how much practice.

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Lovely. Just lovely. There’s scarcely any other word that so singularly sums up watching Stephen Frear’s latest foray into biographical storytelling, ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’. With past works such as ‘The Queen’ and ‘Philomena’ giving him a sound tract record for portraying arresting human interest, who could have been better qualified to translate the story of the eponymous New York heiress and her opera singing aspirations? The whole ‘catch’ of this film is predicated on the fact that Ms Jenkins (Meryl Streep) is an objectively appalling singer, a fact that escapes no one but herself and in no small part thanks to the protective censorship of her doting husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). So easily could this have been an unimaginative running gag, the butt of a joke with little-to-no variety and on near-constant repeat throughout the film’s 1hr 45min running time. In fact, admittedly the humour in Streep’s howling can indeed wear a little thin at times, but the film refuses to sink to any indulgences of cynicism at her efforts, choosing rather to capture this unique contrast between passion and prowess centre stage, eloquently posing that key dilemma to each of its characters in their own way. Frears honours the real Ms Jenkins by depicting her as a beacon of personal pride, complicated but ultimately enviable for her sheer conviction, a woman who has bet it all on her heart’s desire. “People may say I can’t sing…but no one can ever say I didn’t sing”. By the time the credits roll, you will wholeheartedly agree with her.

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Is it a perfect film? No, and it may not even be a great one. The subplot of Bayfield’s mistress (Rebecca Ferguson) ultimately feels somewhat lacking in relevance to Ms Jenkins’ story besides the occasional plot contrivance. It is noteworthy however that in depicting an act of infidelity in the story, the film somehow makes it work as a meaningful illustration of Bayfield’s ultimate devotion to his wife. As near-relentlessly charming and endearing as the film may be however, it lacks a moment of particular resonance, a standout sequence that especially impacts the audience, and so the overall experience can feel somewhat watered down a little from what it otherwise could have been. Aside from those points, this is certainly a movie-going experience that is at least refreshing at this time of year, when cinemas are swamped with superhero epics, raunchy comedies and frenetic animated features for children. Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory) is a revelation as Jenkins’ pianist Cosmé McMoon and even Hugh Grant brings his A-game, and of course Meryl Streep herself remains an impeccable actor who continues to frustrate critics as they search for evermore imaginatively worded praise. ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ may not be spectacular, but it would have been dishonest to attempt at spectacle, and the result is a sincere, sweet cinematic story about the triumph of passion over proficiency. Simple, unambitious, affecting, one for a nice little family outing.

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Quality = 4/5.

Entertainment = 3/5

Final Verdict = 3.5/5

-M.E.

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