By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review follows on from our feature last Friday night. We interviewed the cast of Florence Foster Jenkins including Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant and The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg.
So, the only way to follow that chat was to release our review of the poignant life story movie, Florence Foster Jenkins.
We caught this biopic in a packed screening at the Phoenix cinema in Leicester. This arty production is a great fit for a stylish cinema…
This biographical film depicts the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice.
The most successful actress of all-time, Meryl Streep, ironically plays the misled and talentless heiress in a role that yet again tests the 3-time Academy Award winner. Streep is fully believable in her layered role but she is largely let down by the experienced, and normally on the money, director Stephen Frears.
When watching Florence Foster Jenkins, I can’t quite place what genre this film wants to sit in. I can only imagine that Frears wanted to create a drama that included uplifting moments, which it does, but it’s just a tad too much. When the comic scenes occur, they are really funny. But they are undone by the darker parts of the tale. The sombre scenes of the film where Florence is dealing with public humiliation and her affliction with Syphilis are so gloomy, you feel bad for even laughing at the funny moments. Frears certainly struggles with balance here and as a viewer, it’s uncomfortable and difficult to build up a rapport with the film.
The core characters and the acting save this film. The oddly loveable support from Cosmo McMoon is welcomed in such a topsy-turvy film. Simon Helberg is perfect for this role. He adds a sense of innocence to a tale that has a side-narrative of deceit and falseness.
As for Hugh Grant, I think he turns in a near career-best performance as Florence’s ‘husband’ and manager, St Clair Bayfield. Bayfield serves as Florence’s best friend and an ally throughout her professional life. Hugh has the measure of St Clair perfectly. He is the mediator between the drama and comedy. He is a constant in the narrative and is definitely the glue. He is in all the pivotal scenes and delivers on them all. The final scenes with Florence are certainly Grant’s best. He is a tour-de-force.
Meryl Streep is the strange one here. She has the titular role but doesn’t delve deep enough. We learn about Florence’s psychological issues early on but they are never explored. That cannot be blamed on Streep but when she has ‘brain-spasm’ moments like shrieking at the sight of a knife, it just comes across as odd and over-acting. I don’t think this film has done as it intended for Meryl. I was expecting a potential Oscar nomination push for Streep but I think she has been done over by the writing and direction. She can only work with what she has but it doesn’t serve her well. She also rides too much on the hilarity of the bad singing sequences – but even those become tiresome.
Along with Hugh’s stellar and charming performance, the cinematography and production design can be applauded too. The film’s rich spirit of 1940s New York is beautifully captured. The theatres and apartments we see are filled with pieces of the time. The clothing is spectacular too with incredible pin-striped three-piece suits and flowing, colourful dresses for the ladies. No expense has been spared on the décor of this film. It’s very classy – ‘and all that jazz’
On the whole though, the writing lets it down. The unbalanced and uninspired showing lacks emotion and feeling. An experience director like Stephen Frears should have had this production nailed. The ingredients were there; it just seems the cake is a bit overcooked. It’s certainly worth a watch though, even if it is just to be transported back to New York 80 years ago. You won’t want to miss Grant’s best performance in decades either.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3 Stars
Florence Foster Jenkins is currently showing worldwide in selected cinemas – certificate PG. I caught it at the Phoenix Cinema in Leicester, the film is there showing for the next two weeks.