Front Row at the Movies
“Florence Foster Jenkins”
Wins Over Her Critics
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
You do not wish to hear Florence Foster Jenkins sing. That is, unless she’s being portrayed by Meryl Streep in a movie called (you guessed it) “Florence Foster Jenkins.”
That film is currently playing at Tropic Cinema.
Nascina Florence Foster was a very real person, a young piano prodigy who turned to singing after she injured her arm. Dumping her first husband, Dr. Frank Thornton Jenkins, she took up with a British Shakespearean actor named St. Clair Bayfield. Florence paid for singing lessons, joined New York music circles, even used her inheritance to fund her own Verdi Club. Not having the greatest voice, the amateur operatic soprano always performed for private audiences, safe from reviews by music critics. However, at the age of 76, she yielded to public demand and made her one and only public appearance, at Carnegie Hall no less. That meant critics could attend. Uh-oh.
I’ve heard a recording of the real Florence Foster Jenkins singing the “Queen of the Night” aria from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Or maybe it was a recording of a sick cat with hiccups.
But Meryl Streep can play anybody. Even a frumpy middle-aged woman with little sense of pitch. Streep, on the other hand, has demonstrated her own vocal talents in movies ranging from “Mama Mia” to “Ricki and the Flash.”
Hugh Grant steps in as manager/companion St. Clair Bayfield, a more nuanced performance than his usual frazzled rom-com roles.
And Simon Helberg does a nice job as Cosme McMoon, the would-be singer’s accompanist. You’ll recognize him as Howard from TV’s “The Big Bang Theory.”
While the real Florence Foster Jenkins didn’t fare well with the critics, Meryl Streep’s “Florence Foster Jenkins” biopic is doing much better. Rotten Tomatoes, the website that aggregates the opinions of film critics, gives it an enthusiastic 92%.