FlixChatter Review: Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

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I have to admit that I didn’t know this film was in the works until I saw it on the press screening list. I had listened to Kenneth Turan’s review of the French film Marguerite on NPR, which is also a biopic of a wealthy woman who loves music and the opera but is delusional about her singing ability. In this film, the title role Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) is a New York heiress who’s always dreamed to play in Carnegie Hall.

In the press screening I attended, there were quite a few members of the MN Opera, and so the audience responded very well to the movie right from the start. It begins with Hugh Grant‘s character, St Clair Bayfield, acting on stage. Then suddenly we see Jenkins descending from the ceiling, suspended on a rope, decked out as a naughty Valkyrie. She goes home with her husband Bayfield, who lulls her to sleep with a poem, but their marriage is more like an act, as they live separate lives. Bayfield lives with his beautiful mistress Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson) who tolerates this arrangement to some degree. But it’s clear that Bayfield genuinely cares for his wealthy wife and he dotes on her. He’s the one who protects her reputation and sustains her life in a bubble so to speak.

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The film’s funniest moments involves Jenkins’ accompanying pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), whom she hired on the spot. The shy young man couldn’t believe his luck, earning $150 a week is more than he’d ever expect. But soon he finds out what it actually entails to work for miss Jenkins. Helberg’s expressions the first time he heard Jenkins sing (if you could even call it that) is simply priceless!! He did whatever he could not to burst into uproarious laughter and it was a hoot to watch.

The rest of the movie is pretty much an elaborate scheme to shield Jenkins from criticism. The Carnegie Hall is closed to the public, as Bayfield goes out of his way to only invite friends and those he could bribe. No doubt critics aren’t allowed to attend, as he knew an honest review would crush Jenkins. British filmmaker Stephen Frears is no stranger to directing biopics starring seasoned actresses (The Queen, Philomena) and he did a splendid job once again. This film is definitely more comedic than the two I mentioned, and the laughs just keep on coming. The humor doesn’t simply rely on an elderly woman singing off key, but I’m fully invested in the whole ruse of keeping Jenkins inside her bubble. It’s funny but also a poignant and heart-warming drama, boasted by a terrific performance by the three main cast.

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Streep is an acting virtuoso, and she did all her own singing here, which must have been a challenge as she’s actually a pretty good singer. Helberg is quite the scene stealer, as he’s in all of the funniest bits in this movie. I’ve never seen him before but he’s definitely a gifted comedian. But it’s Grant who’s quite a revelation here with his heartfelt and understated performance. He made me believe that Bayfield’s love for Jenkins is genuine and that he’s not just a gold digger taking advantage of a wealthy senior citizen. All the quiet moments of him and Streep pack an emotional punch.

It’s hard not to root for Jenkins despite her delusion of grandeur. I found myself being swept away by her and this movie. I love the look of this movie too, with beautiful 40s set pieces and costumes. It’s a lovely crowd pleaser that will make you want to get up and cheer. I saw this the day after Suicide Squad, oh what a perfect palate cleanser this turns out to be! The protagonist may be off key but the film certainly is not.

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Have you seen ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’? Let me know what you think! 

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24 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

  1. Yes, I want to see this too. I saw the French film Marguerite a few months ago, which follows the same storyline. While also funny, there is more tragedy in Marguerite than there seems to be in this movie. I thought Marguerite was very good, so I really wonder how this movie will compare. Oh, and I love Meryl Streep – that woman is a phenomenon!
    By the way, Simon Helberg plays Howard in The Big Bang Theory on TV (which is a great and very funny show, so his good comedic timing doesn’t surprise me).

    1. I could see that they *lighten* things up for US release. I think the French film probably isn’t afraid of tragedy. Streep knocks it out of the park once again but it’s Helberg who’s the scene stealer! This is also my fave Hugh Grant performance, haven’t seen him in ages.

  2. Awesome review! Helberg often steals the show in The Big Bang Theory too, he is just hysterical in that. So glad to see him in such a big movie with Oscar buzz surrounding the film. It would be so cool if Hugh was nominated for that

    1. I just realized Helberg is in TBBT, no wonder he looks familiar! He’s sooo hysterical here, people were snorting up a storm all over the theater. I won’t be surprised if Grant got a nod, I sure hope he would get one as I think he’s as good as Streep here.

  3. Loved your review, Ruth. It’s nice to see Grant playing a serious role where and he gives a subtle performance. I think he’s funny and handsome, but how nice to play a supportive role here. Looking forward to watching it.

    1. Hi Cindy! Grant still has that twinkle in his eye but yeah it’s a more serious role, with Helberg in a hilarious scene-stealing comedic role. He still looks good here too, which makes me miss him in Bridget Jones Baby!

    1. Hi Allie! I wasn’t as taken by the trailer either, it was the review of Margarite that got me curious about this one. Yes you’re right, it must be just as tough to sing badly when you’re a good singer than the other way around!

  4. This film didn’t exactly spark my interest, but after reading your review, I may have a change of heart. Is Streep going to get nominated for this one? She always seems to get nominated no matter what movie she’s in!

    1. Hi Courtney! I wasn’t that interested in seeing this initially either, but I’m glad I did! Well I’m hoping it’s Hugh Grant that got nominated instead of Streep, but like you said, the Academy LOVES her so not surprised if she gets yet another nod!

  5. Got to agree, Simon Helberg facial reactions were golden, and I also really like the character Florence Foster Jenkins, mostly because of her passion and enthusiasm for music

    1. Hi Myerla! I hope to see more of Helberg in comedies, he’s fantastic! And yes, who could dislike Florence even w/ her delusions? You feel sorry for her but yet amused at the same time.

  6. Tom

    Wonderful piece on this Ruth. I especially love this sentiment: “She goes home with her husband Bayfield, who lulls her to sleep with a poem, but their marriage is more like an act, as they live separate lives.” Love that!

    I really enjoyed this one, it was a lot funnier than I expected and I also thought Helberg was a real nice touch. Much better here than he is in that Big Bang Theory show

    1. Thanks so much Tom! I think the *marriage* between Bayfield and Jenkins could’ve been really creepy, but it was very sweet and heartfelt. I also didn’t expect it to be so funny but it was immensely enjoyable. I’ve never seen Helberg before so he’s definitely a pleasant surprise for me.

  7. DeMonk

    After reading your review, i went to see it. Quite a revelation. It was such fun. How they managed to keep a straight face, I have no idea.

    1. Hi DeMonk! Thrilled to hear you saw this after reading my review and wasn’t disappointed 🙂 Yeah that’s great acting right there to be able to keep a straight face, must be fun to see the outtakes from this movie!

    1. Oh don’t be sorry Abbi, we can’t all like the same things. To be honest w/ you, I actually like the people surrounding Florence much more than Florence herself, their reaction to her delusion of grandeur is what made it hilarious.

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