Sunday, May 28, 2017

Florence Foster Jenkins

Movie Name: Florence Foster Jenkins
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Stephen Frears
Stars: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, Nina Arianda, Stanley Townsend, Allan Corduner, Christian McKay, David Haig, John Sessions
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Prolific director Stephen Frears is back, following the successful "Philomena" and the little seen "The Program". "Florence Foster Jenkins" is based on the true story of the lady with said name, who was born in 1868 (and passed away in 1944), and was considered the worst opera soprano ever. The film introduces us to Florence as the New York socialite and heiress, who funded the Verdi Club to promote the love for opera and music. Her husband, an English actor, is also her manager, and though he leads a somewhat lateral life with a girlfriend (due to Florence's health), he's a staunch supporter and devoted to her. Upon hiring a young gifted pianist, Florence performs a small recital, one that is met with laughter and derision, but also with enthusiasm, something that fuels Florence willingness to continue (even if everyone thinks she's terrible, without ever telling her so). Her recordings make their way to the radio, where a lot of the audience think that they are humorous takes. She manages to book Carnegie Hall, much to the shock of her devoted husband, who has always tried to shield Florence from the barrage of negative criticism.
The works from Stephen Frears have always been somewhat irregular - he has touched many themes with different levels of success, but one thing that has been a staple of his work, is the consistency with which he allows for actors to build interesting characters. If some of his early and most interesting films, such as "My Beautiful Laundrette" and "Prick Up Your Ears" married a view of the English society with the disruption of social norms and thrives for personal expression, his Hollywood ventures have been somewhat glossier (with turns both inspired such as "The Grifters" and "Dangerous Liaisons" with others less interesting, such as "Hero" and "Mary Reilly"). "Florence Foster Jenkins" manages to be a film that is impeccable in its execution and detail, allowing for three great central performances, in particular from both Meryl Streep and Simon Helberg (who is a surprise). However it's also a film that has nothing more than that - it demonstrates and illustrates, but it's incapable of truly transmitting the fervor and love that Florence felt for music and opera. For someone and a character who butchered opera as this lady supposedly did, this is a tame film that lacks energy and a much needed exuberance (one has to wonder what Pedro Almodovar or John Waters would do with this material). A quickly forgotten film somewhat redeemed by its central performances.