Florence Foster Jenkins Film Review

Film Review by Jon E Clist

The Premise
Convinced of her own talent, the voice Florence heard in her head was beautiful, while to everyone else it was hilarious and awful. Her husband and manager, aristocratic English actor St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), was determined to protect his beloved from the truth. But when Florence decided to give a public concert at Carnegie Hall in 1944, St Clair knew he faced his greatest challenge yet.

The Review
We have all spent many hours on youtube or even network television watching the opening auditions for American Idol or similar to know what bad singing looks and sounds like. Although this is the tale of a woman who really isn’t the best singer, this is also the story of loving people more than just their abilities. That whole idea that sometimes the graceful thing is to humour someone about what they think they can do just because you love them. However, what happens when the wheels start turning and the train won’t slow down? Well, without giving anything else away, Florence Foster Jenkins tells the mostly true story of such a happening.

Packaged with a generous helping a laugh out loud moments, this is quite the endearing tail. There are plenty of those cringing moments when Streep does a wonderfully accurate job of singing badly to great comedic climax. I even felt myself slide down in my seat a couple of times in physical support of the embarrassment. Isn’t it funny how watching a good film can often bring forth such physical responses. You jump, cringe, slouch, bounce, hide your eyes and so on, when a film really starts to connect with you.

The Real Florence Foster-Jenkins
The story of Florence Foster Jenkins was first adapted into a play in 1994, when writer Terry Speed created "Precious Few" that centered around Jenkins and the English novelist Ronald Firbank. It premiered at the Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Then in 2005, Jenkins's story inspired two different plays, one was set up as a stage play in West End London, entitled "Glorious!" and another on Broadway, entitled "Souvenir". "Glorious!" has since been translated into 27 languages and performed in more than 40 countries worldwide. That is a lot of people running around on stages and singing out of tune on purpose.

One element of this film that makes is such a brilliant success is the wonderful chemistry between Streep and Grant. As the film rolls on, the true extent of the love between them grows stronger and stronger and is something rather special to experience. There are quite a few really touching moments that they share together on screen that nearly get the tear ducts leaking. (Damn you, allergies!). This was a pairing that nearly might not have been. Hugh Grant had originally semi-retired when director Stephen Frears convinced him to star in this film. One of Grant's reasons for participating was in order to act opposite Meryl Streep. Both individually and together, Streep and Grant are spectacular. They bring such a wonderful vulnerability to their roles with delicate perfection.

Even though the film is set in New York, it was actually filmed in London and Liverpool, England. Yet they have captured the feel of New York in the 40’s to a tee. In fact, the scene set in Carnergie hall towards the end of the film was shot in The Hammersmith Apollo with around 300 extras. That whole saying of truth being stranger than fiction is so true in this case as portrayed in the film, Jenkins 1944 concert in Carnegie Hall, New York, was completely sold out. I would have given nearly anything to be there for that, what a night it would have been. 

Then of course there is Simon Helberg from Big Bang Theory fame as the quiet and unassuming pianist, who really had no idea what he was being pulled into. His discomfort and shyness, adds such weight to the story as you senses that he has been caught up in a tornado that threatens to demolish him whole.

The Verdict
Great story, fabulous cast and beautifully filmed cinematic magic. Now this is a great film!

The Trailer

The Info
Releases: 5th May 2016
Rating: PG – Contains coarse language
Duration: 110 minutes 
Genre:  Comedy/Drama
Starring: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Helberg
Director: Stephen Frears (The Queen, Tamara Drewe)

The Extras
Another movie inspired by the life of Florence Foster Jenkins is a French-Czech-Belgian co-production comedy Marguerite (2015) which, however, changed names, place and time period of the story.

Meryl Streep said of co-starring with Hugh Grant as her romantic partner; "I always thought I was too old. But he got older".

Jenkins handled distribution of the popular tickets herself, in order to exclude professional critics from attending her performances.

Costume designer Consolata Boyle had to add a few pounds of padding to Streep's slight frame in order to recreate Jenkins' more matronly outline.

Jenkins created all her own outfits and was inspired by the style of "a Mexican seƱorita" and 18th-century ball gowns among other things. She also designed her pair of heavenly wings. "She was a supreme performer, so her clothes were gorgeously outrageous. They were high camp but with a softness so she drew people in. And she had no embarrassment about how she looked" has costume designer Consolata Boyle said of her appearance.

In real life, Florence Foster Jenkins only released one professional recording.