Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
There's such a thing as being too nice. Florence Foster Jenkins is a masterfully told, heartbreaking story about a woman's dreams... and the men in her life who refuse to stop her.
The wealthy and much loved Florence (Meryl Streep) has dreams of becoming an opera singer. Unfortunately, she cannot sing! Her do-good husband, St. Clair (Hugh Grant), dotes on her, arranging for her to fulfill all her dreams. And when she decides to leave behind her silent participation in operas and take her voice to new heights, he cringes -- and makes it happen. His first act is to hire a professional pianist, Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg), who cannot stifle his shock the first time he hears Florence's voice. They hope a small private gathering will be enough for Florence... but no, she wants a more professional venue. And then her voice gets out. And people respond. Whatever can they do now?
Based on a true story, this film is exceptional in making you care about its main characters. Cosmo starts out laughing uproariously over Florence's voice, but before long, drawn in by her sincerity and kindness, becomes one of her closest friends. Like everyone else, he can't bear to break her heart and tell her the truth -- and it backfires, in a truly gut-wrenching twist of fate. The three leads are exceptional; Grant is convincing and likable as a husband who is killing her with kindness, Helberg has a quiet but marvelous comedic intensity, and Meryl is of course magnificent as the woman who cannot hear her own flat notes. She mimics the inflections and mannerisms of the original Florence so well, it makes her eventual discovery of the truth heartbreaking.
The script does seem a little long at times, and doesn't always follow the true story to the letter (in the film, St. Clair's mistress leaves him in a huff, after he refuses to stop defending Florence in public; in real life, they married after Florence's death) but it creates a sense of charm around this woman, which means the audience starts cringing in expectation for her humiliation. It also illustrates the cruelty of enabling people's delusions and brings up interesting questions of love; if you love someone, when do you tell them to stop, for their own sake? I cannot say I'll watch it over and over again, but the acting was so spectacular that it'd be a shame not to see the cast win a slew of awards.
St. Clair has a mistress on the side whom he lives with; he admits that it's because he cannot sleep with Florence. She references having contracted syphilis from her first husband on her wedding night. She barges into their apartment once, interrupting them asleep; the woman wraps herself in a sheet and hides in the closet to avoid being seen. A posture to improve her singing resembles a sexual position.
GD is used twice; a handful of "Oh my God!"s; general profanities.