Florence Foster Jenkins Review: Perfectly Pleasant Summer Fun

Photo Credit:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxULG0-LHVQ

Meryl Streep is the greatest living actor. Few would dispute that, even if her career choices as of late have been less awards driven it seems. That’s not a criticism. Streep, at this point in her legendary career, is so evidently having the time of her life doing whatever projects she wants. Florence Foster Jenkins is a light, comedic biopic of a New York socialite from the 1940s blissfully unaware of her terrible singing voice. It’s a very pleasant, though safe, little movie where the only remarkable thing is Streep herself. She demonstrates her abilities right in the opening scene, when Florance makes a speech to the audience after a laughable showcase of theatricality involving her and “Flight of the Valkyries.” She looks at her overly polite cohorts with the smile of a women so victorious in her own happiness she can’t help but get just slightly emotional about it. As the camera zooms in on her face, it’s sobering to see Streep nail every beat, pausing for the perfect amount of time, changing her voice as Florence encounters different emotions, and communicating to us every single thing we need to know about this women through mere microexpressions. It’s effortless. As she taps into the human spirit and invites us to connect, the film finds a groove rooted in both comedy and genuine emotion. The editing will later betray this, forcing some awkward tonal shifts in the back half, but there’s no denying that a movie is just made better when Streep is doing her thing.

For the most part, Florence Foster Jenkins is an exercise in her comedic ability. The tone works in her favor as the plot is set up. While Florence and her husband (Hugh Grant, in top form here) look to hire a new pianist to accompany Florence’s vocals, they stumble upon Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg), an expert pianist hesitant to potentially ruin his reputation by playing with a woman who has no idea how terrible she is. But Florence’s love of music proves infectious, even on the film itself. There’s such a soulful love for the craft that you can’t help but be swept up in the film’s lively energy.

But when it comes time for some serious drama in the third act, the film stumbles. As we’re meant to root for Florence, it becomes awkward that the film exploited her so much for laughs throughout itself. It feels like the signals got crossed here, as the film wants us to laugh at her and hate the people laughing at her at the same time. It’s never good in a biopic when you start wondering if the director is doing right by the figure they’re depicting.

Still, the film’s positive energy keeps things light enough that these missteps hardly ruin the whole experience. Streep’s performance keeps things alive, however. Florence Foster Jenkins succeeds on the shoulders of one incredible talent. It would be forgettable without her, perhaps even a chore to watch. But she takes all the places the script refuses to, infusing the film with genuine emotion. It’s just proof that even when a role requires Streep to be out of key, she still hits all the right notes. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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