First things first – who was Florence foster Jenkins?
Lady Florence was a socialite, well-acquainted with the upper classes of New York City in the early 20th century. She was the Chairman of Music of numerous wealthy social clubs, producing and performing in many of their shows. She later founded her own social organisation, the Verdi Club, dedicated to fostering a love of Opera, and dubbed herself the “President Soprano Hostess”. Despite all this, she was, in a way, very similar to the likes of William Hung/Steven Lim – she couldn’t sing.
Here is the proof:
Similar to how we are when we harshly vet through contestants on reality shows, the people who heard her were perplexed – did she know how horrible she was? Is this all just a joke? Was she in on it? Although there were some telling signs, like how she refused to sing publicly, keeping her vocal recitals open to only a few of her posh, wealthy friends, it is still largely up to debate if Lady Florence genuinely thought she had talent.
But horrible as she was, people could not stop watching. She provided a wonderful source of distraction in 1940s New York City, in the backdrop of World War II, and amassed a cult following who affectionately mocked her.
Despite all this, Florence Foster Jenkins, both the woman and the movie, is as inspiring as it is laughable. She is the epitome of bad singing, dubbed the worst singer who ever lived, but she continued chasing her dream with such pure gusto and delusional belief in herself that it is almost admirable. The film dives into the last few years of Lady Florence’s life, detailing a 76 year old’s dream to perform at Carnegie Hall, and bring joy to others in the name of music during the bleakness of wartime.
The cast itself is enough reason to watch the show. Meryl Streep, queen of Hollywood, delivers a poignant performance as Lady Florence. A disproportionate amount of talent was employed to play somebody with no musical talent. Meryl Streep is both invincible and vulnerable, lovable and insufferable, portraying Lady Florence as the complex, intriguing individual that she was. Meryl Streep also did the bad singing herself, which is amazing considering what a talented singer she actually is (cue “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Mamma Mia”).
Hugh Grant, who came out of semi-retirement to star beside Meryl Streep, plays St Clair Bayfield, the protective lover of Lady Florence, and throws us off with his warped notions of love and webs of white lies. He bribes and coerces his way through crowds, making sure everyone sings nothing but compliments about Lady Florence’s performances.
Simon Helberg (Howard Wolowitz from Big Bang Theory) delights as Cosmé McMoon, a pianist looking for his big break. He is terrified, awkward, and confused, being thrown headfirst into the superficiality of the wealthy. He fills the role of the little boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes, playing an outsider peering into the show business of being upper class, expressing the same bewilderment and amusement as we go through.
The whole movie was ludicrously delightful, but also has the ability to make you cry buckets out of pity for Lady Florence. What was best about it was that it was very closely based on the true story, but was so incredulous that it did not seem like one. Ultimately, this is a story about a woman with no talent, faked compliments, but true passion.
Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
Directed by Stephen Frears
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Biography
Running time: 111 minutes
Rating: 4/5 stars
Cover Photo: 3rd Rail