The story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress, who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice.
If you can’t sing, don’t let that stop you from pursuing your dreams to be a singer; if you have enough money, you may just get to sing whatever and wherever you want. Florence Foster Jenkins aims to pay tribute to a woman who couldn’t sing but achieved fame thanks to her devotion to trying anyway; but it is impossible to watch this movie without realising that in the end it only succeeds in being a sad and misplaced celebration of the vanity and self-indulgence of the rich and untalented.
This true story introduces Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) at a mature age, where she is now a wealthy heiress who sees herself as a generous patron saint of musical arts, an all-round performer and a unique singing talent. The fact that she can’t hold a note, any note, is no secret to anyone but her unfortunately. But clearly, money talks and all around her indulge her ‘ambitions’. Her husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) organises various small performances for her, vetting every attendee beforehand so everyone will be sure to not burst Florence’s bubble.
The technical aspects of this movie are all good – beautiful sets, lovely costumes, pretty cinematography, generally good acting. The movie walks the line between comedy and drama fairly well in that it manages not to ridicule or disrespect its heroine in any individual scene. But the pacing isn’t great – it is pretty slow, and I can’t say I cared to hear Meryl Streep murder her own voice – but having yet another long scene of her doing that just doesn’t work. Towards the end we do finally get a bit more interesting insight into in particular Hugh Grant’s character, but it is not enough to rescue this movie. The grand finale is not grand at all in storytelling terms but merely succeeds in putting the nails in Florence Foster Jenkins’ coffin.
If you switch your brain off, this is a pretty movie to watch, with fine acting by Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant and even Simon Helberg holds his own better than I expected. But there is nothing to excite and therefore you can’t help but have your brain wander and wonder: why was this woman famous and why does this movie seek to celebrate her life? The movie itself gives some hints at Foster Jenkins battling with ongoing side-effects of having had syphilis, but really this isn’t a story about someone succeeding against all odds or after fighting great adversity – she only succeeds because of the banality I started this review with: If one has enough money, vanity and lack of self-awareness, one can buy all the friends and fame one could hope for – and not even realise it.
Whilst individual scenes may have managed to avoid ridicule or disrespect to its subject, the movie as a whole achieves rather the opposite.