'Florence Foster Jenkins' Doesn't Let Lack Of Talent Get In The Way Of Good Music
By Devvon Eubanks
“Confidence is key.” We are told frequently that we must be confident in ourselves and our abilities to provide reasonable service in everything that we do. By being confident, one can demonstrate strength, experience, passion, and much more towards a craft or an art form. However, too much of anything can possibly kill someone, as curiosity is not the only thing that can kill the cat. Too much confidence can breed destruction, especially in the sphere of the musical arts. American Idol is a perfect example, with some contestants singing for opening tryouts in front of a panel of judges. These individuals go in believing they are the best singers in the world, but they often exit the room with a very different tune after a horrendous performance. Their overconfidence makes them look foolish on television, even when other people tell them they can sing. And this is the driving idea behind one woman who was known for this same level of audaciousness.
Based on a real story in the early 1900s in New York City, “Florence Foster Jenkins” is about an heiress that has a major love for music and has a small following to support her passion. Florence Jenkins (Meryl Streep) is supported by her husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) and loves to participate in performances for the promotion of the arts in her group, the Verdi Club. One day, inspired by a radio announcement of a singer performing on behalf of World War II soldiers, and after seeing a flourishing opera performance that brings her to tears, Jenkins wants to resume singing lessons to test her vocal ability. The pair soon hire pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) to play for Jenkins professionally. At her first lesson with her vocal coach, Carlo Edwards (David Haig), McMoon is shocked to discover that Jenkins is a horrendous singer, but Bayfield and Edwards pretend she is wonderful. Wanting to go further than the lessons with increased confidence, Jenkins soon pays to start a recording and eventually wants to perform for live audiences. But how far will her husband and McMoon go to hide her terrible singing skills? And will Jenkins continue to rise as a star, only to crash and burn in the end?
Overall, the premise of the movie is very straightforward, and the setting and details surrounding the film early on reflect that. The story is simply about a woman who wants to show the world how much she loves music, and she is not concerned about being a star. But even though the overall pace of the film is quick and easy to follow, there are some very good plot twists that occur which keep the viewer’s attention. And the setting feels like New York in the early 1900s, with older style automobiles, reliance on radio programs, no televisions, and an elegant type of attire befitting the time. The production is very good, and the background music guiding the scenes is very well-done in that it doesn’t take the viewer away from the action. And many classical pieces from operas and famous pianists like Bach litter the film, further reflecting the importance of music in this society. However, when it comes to character development, especially regarding the “talent” of Florence, some of this musical attachment can be ruined.
First, the supporting characters do a decent job in the roles they are given. Most notably, the roles of Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg give the most to this film. Grant is a true gentleman as Bayfield, as he is stylish, calm, collected, well-spoken, and very affectionate and caring towards his wife. Meanwhile, Helberg as Cosme is quite the opposite, especially when he hears Florence’s horrible singing. He can’t hide his emotions, he easily gets nervous, and he is constantly worried about things going wrong. Yet he is devoted friend to both Bayfield and Florence. But the real star of the movie is, of course, Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins. However, her role is a double-edged sword that affects the film in an interesting way. Streep’s acting of this real-life lady is very well done and very realistic, but the character of Florence Jenkins was presented as a joke in the musical arts community because of her inability to sing. It is this terrible singing, complete with horrendous timing, high-pitched whines and squeals, and terrible pronunciation of language that may get on the viewer’s nerves. But that is what the premise of the film is: to experience a woman that loved music, and was notorious in trying to show that love even though she had no talent. And it is comical seeing how the supporting cast reacts to Florence’s singing. In fact, I can’t see how Streep herself didn’t laugh hysterically while preparing for this role because she had to act as a terrible singer. Overall though, this film has great casting that shows a different side of musical theater and gives a unique view on music in general.
“Florence Foster Jenkins” is an interesting film that shows the life of a real person living in early New York City with a love of music and a passion for singing. However, even if she couldn’t sing and was ridiculed for her lack of talent, the movie shows that she gave it her best and showed the world that music matters. It is a film that will not receive a lot of press or praise compared to many other more popular films, but this is a great film that is nonetheless unique. Classical music lovers and fans of Meryl Streep will certainly be pleased, and the average moviegoer will certainly find something to like about this tragic lady of history.