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<em>Florence Foster Jenkins</em>

(Nick Wall/Paramount Pictures)

Movie

Florence Foster Jenkins

This historical dramedy offers an inescapable sense of sadness

Though based on a real-life 1940s socialite, historical dramedy Florence Foster Jenkins perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the social media age, where our collective demand for accolades is largely divorced from whether we’ve done something to deserve them.

Florence (Meryl Streep) is an amateur opera singer without an ounce of vocal ability. Thanks to her wealth and social position, she plays to (seemingly) adoring crowds and wins gushing reviews from sold-out performances. The moral quandary the story poses: Should we too applaud Florence’s passion despite her ineptitude, or throw in with the pharisaical critics who weigh her voice and find it wanting? Ninety-five percent of the movie appears to argue for the former.

This is reinforced by Florence’s relationship with her husband, St. Clair (Hugh Grant), who greases half of Manhattan’s palms to protect his wife’s delusions. Theirs is a marriage of “understanding,” including a mistress on the side (whose revealing form under a bedsheet, as well as a bit of language, accounts for the PG-13 rating). Yet their sexless devotion, as St. Clair repeatedly insists, is simply a different form of love. They’re happy, so who’s to condemn?

When Florence tells her new pianist, “I warn you, I train very hard. Sometimes as much as an hour a day,” it feels like a subtle joke on the viewer. And later, though a New York Post reporter seems cast as a parade-raining villain, his accusation that applauding Florence makes a mockery of great art rings a little too true.

Streep oozes bravura when she confronts her lack of talent: “They may say I couldn’t sing, but they can’t say I didn’t sing.” This feelings-over-facts philosophy is seen on campuses all over the country. Yet there’s an inescapable sense of sadness that all of Florence’s charm and resources are wasted in chasing after wind.

On second glance, perhaps director Stephen Frears is playing the St. Clair to our Florence. Telling the audience what we want to hear, all the while wincing at our self-delusion.

Comments

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  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Fri, 08/26/2016 04:56 am

    Reminds me a bit of Harry Truman's defense of his daughter's opera career. He famously used his Presidential gravitas to defend his daughter's lackluster performances. He was livid to read that Paul Hume of the Washington Post had so honestly reviewed Margaret's performance, "Miss Truman cannot sing very well" and "has not improved." One can easily accept his fatherly concern and support. But at the same time wonder how long her career would have lasted it she wasn't HST's daughter. Admittedly, and gratefully, this is not on the same level of the story you review above which reveals much about society and our desire to have people we can love and adore. Many don't deserve it for one reason or another. 

    Mr. Hume:

              I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. I've come to the conclusion that you are an "eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay."

              It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful. When you write such poppy-cock as was in the back section of the paper you work for it shows conclusively that you're off the beam and at least four of your ulcers are at work.

              Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!

              Pegler, a gutter snipe, is a gentleman alongside you. I hope you'll accept that statement as a worse insult than a reflection on your ancestry.

              H.S.T.

     

  • Trumpetly Speaking
    Posted: Fri, 08/26/2016 11:46 am

    There were many subtleties in this story which ultimately failed to transmit.  Mainly, Florence Foster Jenkins was an avid music lover and patron who fostered talent in others to an enormous degree.  I wish that side of her story had been emphasized.  The makers got themselves stuck between a comedy and a drama.  There really was no harm done by this woman, only a lot of good.  She never thought she was a great talent, she just wanted to sing.  She had a lot of money so she paid to do it  and did so quite earnestly.  I don't think her story was told faithfully by this movie and it actually felt awkward to watch because even though she was very funny, laughing wasn't the appropriate response then or now.

  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Fri, 08/26/2016 05:05 pm

    Can't stand Meryl Streep, nor Hugh Grant, so I'll pass.