While it comes across as just another glitzy biopic, Florence Foster Jenkins is thoroughly enjoyable.
Florence Foster Jenkins may be well known to many of you. The art of enjoying things ironically is not a new art. People were patronizing subpar art venues to fill the sick appetite for schadenfreude as far back as WWII, as we learn from the film in question. While it comes across as just another glitzy biopic (and hey, maybe that’s what it is), Florence Foster Jenkins is thoroughly enjoyable because it’s not about Florence’s act or the outrageous recording that has made her a goofy folk legend in music; it’s about her preparing for her acts.
In the midst of her rehearsals, our role as an audience is switched from bemused and intrigued spectators to highly invested observers. The relationship between Jenkins (Meryl Streep, playing the role perfectly) and her husband, St. Clair Barfield (Hugh Grant, who takes on the slightly withered look these days and takes full advantage of it in this film to illicit enormous pathos) is the focus of the film, with ample time given to the involvement of Jenkins’ pianist, Cosmé Mcmoon (Simon Helberg, putting perhaps a bit too much eccentricity into his performance, but its effeminate and mysterious style is very watchable). Their interactions provide explanations for Foster’s behavior and triumphs.
All good filmmaking elements checked off. Vibrant cinematography, authentic costume and set design, and masterful performances. There is an agreement I feel a viewer has to make with him or herself before watching the film and that is that schmaltziness will be heavily present in the story about to take place onscreen, and instead of being critical, we should open up to it and embrace it. That’s the true value of Jenkins’ legacy and mission. Her goal was simple: Bring music to New York City, to the world, through her own voice and through the voice of others; to be courageous, to be generous, and to embrace sincerity. Ultimately, it’s the earnest sincerity in Florence Foster Jenkins that makes it difficult to laugh at, despite it being difficult for audience’s at the time not to laugh when hearing her.
Through meticulously laid cinematic craftsmanship, writer Nicholas Martin and director Stephen Freers tell a story about an oddity with the same level of humanity, humor, melancholy and empathy that embodied the phenomenon of Florence Foster Jenkins herself. As to the factual basis of the events in the movie, I honestly couldn’t say. Jenkins has only been a small blip on my radar until now. But I do believe that it’s the positive qualities I’ve just mentioned that make the historicity of the script irrelevant. Great biopics represent the feeling that their subjects put out into the world and capture their intentions instead of repeating what we have already read about. And so if Florence Foster Jenkins comes across as an overly-sentimental, naively uplifting biopic, it’s no accident. | Nic Champion