Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
Directed by Stephen Frears
In a year when Oscar’s gaze has yet to fall upon any of Hollywood’s leading ladies, Meryl Streep may just be the first award-worthy performance of 2016—ironically, playing one of history’s least talented entertainers.
It’s wartime, but New York City’s strongest person isn’t a soldier—she’s a wealthy socialite named Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep), who’s also an overly confident opera soprano who still believes she has serious musical talent. Her husband, the failed thespian St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), devotes his life to keeping Florence happy by keeping potentially critical reviews out of the press. Even her ambitious young pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) keeps his mouth shut. But when Florence decides she wants to perform a big public concert for thousands of soldiers, even her closest allies fear she might be in over her head.
“Florence Foster Jenkins” has talent at every turn…of course for Florence herself, of course. If Meryl Streep doesn’t garner Oscar attention, it’s only because nobody expects anything less than an Oscar from the woman with 19 nominations under her belt. But she deserves an even 20 for her transformative performance as the larger-than-life figure (she’d be the first person in history to earn 20 acting nominations). She never fails to slip so seamlessly into her characters that we forget for a second that we’re watching one of the most accomplished actresses of all time. After all, you have to have a good voice to sing that badly. Meryl Streep has the chops. But in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” she has an equally distinguished costar. You might only see Hugh Grant as a charming, lovable Brit—and he’s definitely that—but he’s much more. Grant is a student of drama, a decidedly particular actor with every bit the training and talent of his more awarded colleagues. Now, finally, he’s beginning to get the credit he deserves. And “Big Bang Theory” star Simon Helberg is a revelation as the quirky accompanist Cosme McMoon. If you thought it’d be hard to jump from Howard Wolowitz to a respectable role alongside Meryl Streep, let Helberg show you how it’s done.
“Florence Foster Jenkins” is nearly impossible to dislike. A good pick-you-up movie needs a cast that’s able to pull it off without being cheesy. “Florence Foster Jenkins” is that rare breed. But don’t take it at face value. Its trailer might mislead you into thinking this is light, crowd-pleasing summer fare. It’s actually so much more. A larger-than-life figure like Florence deserves to be seen on the big screen.