In the 1940s, New York socialite Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) dreams of becoming a great opera singer. Unfortunately, her ambition far exceeds her talent. The voice Florence hears in her head is beautiful, but to everyone else it is quite lousy. Her husband St. Clair (Hugh Grant) goes to extreme lengths to make sure his wife never finds out how awful she truly is. When Florence announces her plans for a concert at Carnegie Hall, St. Clair soon realizes that he’s facing his greatest challenge yet.
It is easy to get the wrong impression about this. The trailer makes it look like a comedy which piles on the fact that Florence Foster Jenkins (Streep) is a bad singer but there is much more than that here. Sure there’s some laughs from characters’ reactions to her singing but this is not a comedy as there was so much more to Jenkins than that.
The story here is about Jenkins who is a New York socialite with aspirations to be an opera singer. Obviously she can’t sing and everybody knows this but her. She thinks she’s a great singer but in reality, well you’ll just have to hear it for yourselves. Her husband St. Clair (Grant) does all he can for Florence by indulging and enabling her desires and making sure she never hears about how bad she really is. He isn’t the only one, however, as everyone around did the same, either genuinely or by bribery by St. Clair. Sometimes it’s hard to know which one is which but it doesn’t really matter since watching people give her praise for how bad she was created some more funny moments.
Florence is a socialite and a bad singer and could have been a caricature of either one but this wasn’t the case here. The film was much more than her bad singing and also focused on her relationship with St. Clair and to a lesser extent, her pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg). It’s easy to see that Florence and St. Clair care for each other. They had great chemistry and seemed to bring out the best from one another. They were great to watch together, seeing them grow closer together. In between, St. Clair spent time with a woman named Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson). This was to flesh St. Clair out a little more by showing he had a life outside of Jenkins but it didn’t go anywhere.
The other big relationship here was Jenkins and McMoon. This did not get off on the best foot as we were first introduced to Jenkins’ terrible singing through him. He struggled to keep his laughter within him as he just couldn’t believe what he was seeing and hearing. He provided some great reactions which got laughs because it was easy to relate to his situation. As Jenkins became more and more serious about her aspirations, McMoon became more and more scared that his association with Jenkins would embarrass him in front of his peers and ruin his reputation which was understandable. As Florence had great chemistry with St. Clair, she also had with McMoon as well which made their scenes great to watch as well.
If it were anyone other than Streep here, Jenkins may have come off as more of a caricature but she manages to provide a nuanced performance, giving her a human side by showing her vulnerability. This made her more relatable and more likeable. She brought a lot of personality and energy to the role. This made us want to root for her and see her succeed. There’s very little things that are more vulnerable than performing on a stage in front of thousands of people.While she wasn’t a good singer, she still believed that she was and it was easy to believe that she believed she was (if that makes any sense). We know that Streep can sing but she definitely puts in the work here in learning how to sing badly (you can look up old performances of the real Jenkins such as this and compare for yourself).
Grant was surprising here as St. Clair. He was great here, especially in scenes with Streep where we could see how protective he was of her and how much they cared for one another. He brought charm and charisma which made him very likeable. Helberg was even more surprising as McMoon, keeping up with the likes of Streep and Grant which is no easy task. His many great facial expressions and his great comedic timing fit nicely and helped him steal many scenes. This leaves him with a great option if The Big Bang Theory doesn’t work out. Lastly, the film did a great job in its depiction of 1940s New York (Scotland) through its use of cinematography, costumes, and score which were all great to watch/hear.
Overall, while this had the potential to be very boring, it is elevated by all the performances, especially Streep’s performance which really wasn’t that much of a surprise.