By Christian DiMartino
I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to expect a lot from Meryl Streep. I mean, you don’t earn 19 Oscar nominations for nothing. Sure, not every performance she does is great, but more often then not, I find myself surrendering to her films.Even if her movies aren’t completely masterworks, she tends to be the best part of them.
And now we have her latest film, Florence Foster Jenkins, and while it might not be anything totally new (she gave a similar, wonderful performance in Julie & Julia some seven years ago), she is still in top form. An amazing actress who has yet to lose her touch. And this time, she’s actually got a film worthy enough to keep up with her.
Florence Foster Jenkins is the latest from director Stephen Frears, whose career has been all over the place. This isn’t quite a great film, like Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, or High Fidelity. But it is a completely charming one, along the lines of Philomena and Mrs. Henderson Presents. Not liking this film would be like punting a puppy off a bridge.
The film takes place in 1944, and chronicles the unconventional true story of the title role, played by Streep of course. Jenkins is a huge supporter of music. She funds it, and basically does what she can to make music a big deal in New York. However, her life is somewhat altered when she visits an opera performance, and is inspired to try it out for herself.
Well… here lies the problem: she can’t sing. Her loving husband, St. Clair (Hugh Grant) knows it. The pianist that they’ve hired, Cosme (Simon Helberg) knows it. It’s fairly bloody obvious, if you have ears. The only one who doesn’t know it is Florence, a big hearted woman who just won’t let her dream die.
It seems like it’s just Florence’s story, but that’s not quite the case. The film is also a portrayal of her marriage, which is a unique one. I won’t give away too many details in this department, but I will say that St. Clair and Florence really love each other. I’ll also say that St. Clair has a mistress (Rebecca Ferguson from last year’s Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation), and that there’s a mutual understanding.
See? Told you it was unconventional.
Streep probably couldn’t give a bad performance in her sleep, and keeps up the great work once again here. What a challenge it must have been for her to sing so horribly, considering Streep actually can sing. But yet it pays off, because her terrible singing is pretty hilarious. It’s mostly screeching and monkey noises, but hearing it come from her mouth- and also remembering that this spunky woman actually existed- let’s just say, it’s kind of great.
As glorious as she is in this film, all of the credit shouldn’t be directed her way. The film looks great, in terms of cinematography and also the way it captures the feel of the era. The screenplay is sharply written, and the actors handle this material with care.
The most important element that deserves recognition is Grant. Ever since the 2000’s rolled around, he kind of gave up his charm in exchange for cunning, sarcastic types. I always thought that that act worked. But his performance here makes us remember a tender side of him. One that we probably haven’t seen since Notting Hill. His chemistry with Streep is surprising, but we feel the love every step of the way. I didn’t think Grant still had it in him, but he sure does. Helberg is also kind of great as Cosme, who really just wishes that someone would tell Florence the truth.
I suppose the film could go further than it does. That being said though, the finale does add the depth we wait for. Florence Foster Jenkins works. Maybe not completely, but very well. Streep and Grant give this film its beating heart, making them the power couple of the summer. Don’t be surprised if Oscar comes calling.