Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) – Film Review

Bitter sweet comedy that left me a little sad

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Florence Foster Jenkins (played by Meryl Streep) is directed by Stephen Frears (Philomena (2013)) and is based on the real life exploits of a women of the same name in New York in the 1940’s.  She is part of a successful theatre group with her husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) when she decides that she wants to take a shot at her dream of singing.  Just one problem … she’s as flat as a pancake that’s been run over by a steam roller.  That doesn’t stop St Clair from organising a revue for her to make her debut, employing the finest singing tutor and a new pianist in the form of Cosme McMoon (Simon Hellberg).

What became clear when watching this film was how misleading the marketing is.  The trailers leave the impression that is is a going to be a classic British comedic romp with Streep hamming it up to the max and Grant doing his usual British gent thing.  Turns out that is the froth on the surface and the real story is that of a devoted married couple that were dealt a raw deal many years ago and are trying to make the best of it.  The story is well told in that it slowly builds up the layers and I would advise you not to jump to any conclusions too early.  The heartbreak of the film is that you know that Florence and St Clair are putting on a show for the public and for themselves.  It is a thin veneer and there some touching moments between the two of them when you can see the real anguish behind the eyes when the veneer starts to show cracks.  It is very well acted and I was surprised by how well the film captured a sense of time and place given what I suspect was a limited budget.  Simon Hellberg is probably better known as a member of the cast of The Big Bang Theory and he further demonstrates his comedic abilities in this film although I didn’t appreciate the soft voice he adopted for most of the film.

In summary Florence Foster Jenkins is extremely well acted and attempts to blend a mixture of humour and marital drama that I felt didn’t quite work.  I have a suspicion there will be many of you who will enjoy this more than me.  My rating is a solid 3/5.

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