Director Stephen Frear’s Florence Foster Jenkins easily cascades down American psyches with its terrific and terrifying humor. FFJ brings to life a new meaning for a ‘feel-good movie’. It is fun, honest, and… morally disturbing.
Florence opens with a sequence at the Verdi Club, an aristocratic-art-club cultivated by the popular and generous goddess of music, Madame Jenkins (Meryl Streep). The fine-dressed and blue-haired crowd moons over outrageous still-scenes, startling monologues, and elaborate musical numbers performed before them.
After over twenty-five years of sideline support, Madame Florence’s last wish is to share the music that has so inspired her all of her life. The philanthropist defies incredible odds when she not only records an album, but also performs at the esteemed Carnegie Hall.
FFJ follows Madame Florence as she embarks on this journey to celebrate her own ambition – opera singing. Her foremost obstacle is the fact that her singing is simply dreadful. Her unpredictable pitch variation and flitting tone is fingernails-to-the-chalkboard. Yet, her money-hungry supporters and strangely sympathetic husband (Hugh Grant) work tirelessly to assure that Madame Florence only receives compliments and encouragement. Though the film lacks in a dynamic plot escalation, it does not lack in dynamic characters and good questions.
Performances by Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant emit a matured grandeur. Madame Florence’s purity meets no match in comedy, or philanthropy for that matter. Meanwhile, Mr. Bayfield’s (Grant) harrowing moral compromises skate about that very purity. Yet, it is the unassuming accompanist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) who steals the show. His interpretation of the philanthropist, her husband and her deceptive supporters matches the conjectures of the film goers, creating a kind of confused solidarity between the 2-D and 3-D world. Helberg’s near-limitless expressions rectifies the magic of silent films with a modern twist.
These unique characters are a delight to watch as they interact with one another and romp around the terrain of honesty. FFJ ponders a barrage of questions involving ambition, courage, and sincerity. The film does not give strict answers, but does come out the other side saying one thing – go for it! Or in the words of Madame Florence, “People may say I can’t sing, but they can’t say I didn’t.”