We think we’re so cool in the 21st century. Not only do we have all these awesome gadgets that make our lives easier, we don’t engage with good and interesting media. We also seek out the worst of it all and watch it, just to laugh at it. We all the likes of The Room and Birdemic are terrible films, yet they have gained a cult status because we like to rip them apart with friends and maybe even throw a spoon or two. But what if I told you people have been enjoying the worst art has to offer for years? Florence Foster Jenkins tells that story.
Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada) absolutely loves music and so opened the Verdi club in order to indulge it. However with World War Two on, she believes music is more important than ever and decides to resume her singing lessons and perform once again. However she turns out to be terrible and she soon gains a fan base of people who absolutely love laughing at her horrific voice.
It probably doesn’t surprise you, but yes Meryl Streep puts in a very good performance. It’s not the best in her career, but she basically acts like Hyacinth Bucket on steroids and it really works in the film’s favour. Not only does it make the comic moments even funnier, but she can make you feel when the film slows down for the more touching moments about her various illnesses. However where Streep excels is in the bad singing because it is truly atrocious and hilarious in the same measure, much like an awful audition on The X Factor. Streep is a good singer as shown in Into The Woods and some parts of Mamma Mia so to be able to sing as badly as this takes some real effort. If you are somehow doubting this, try to forget how to work the computer or phone you are reading this on. Difficult isn’t it?
However while Streep will get all the plaudits and most likely another Oscar nomination, the real star performance is with her male co-lead Hugh Grant (About A Boy). Often mocked as just another rom-com guy, he pulls off something really impressive here by getting the conflicted emotions of Florence’s husband St Clair Bayfield, what a name, completely right. He wants to make Florence feel good-by telling her that her singing is actually good because it’s what she loves doing but wants to protect her from the judgmental world, especially when he realizes people are just laughing at Florence.
But both actors are helped by a pearler of a script which has some very quotable lines. My personal favourite is: “I work very hard. I study one hour a day, sometimes even two.” because it basically defines my life as a student and if there’s any justice in the world it’ll become a meme. It’s better than people going on about a dead gorilla. But while it comes up with more lines to make you laugh than some of the comedies I’ve seen this year, it also nails the tougher more emotional stuff and does leave with a parting shot that will have some people welling up.
What this film works best as though is as a character study of Florence herself. Many films would be very judgmental of Florence, after all she probably shouldn’t have done what she did because if anything, Streep sings better than what the real Florence did back in the 1940s. However this one actually celebrates the fact she just went out and achieved her dream despite other people and a lack of talent. As someone who also has a dream and a lack of talent to go with it, I can really relate.
The film doesn’t really have many major weaknesses to hold it back either. Oh there are a couple of problems but that mainly revolves around Bayfield’s affair with his mistress Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) which isn’t really developed. This, along with the cast relationship between Bayfield and Florence, could have add to a whole new layer to the characters but it’s pushed out to the side because seeing Florence sing badly is much more entertaining. Which in fairness, it probably is.
With the trend of watching terrible films just for fun continuing well into 2016, it’s nice to see a movie delve into the subject of ironically watching something without feeling judgmental on either side. Florence Foster Jenkins shows a woman who adored music and just wanted to pass that on to other people and in the end, she did. It just happened in a way that she couldn’t have expected. And as well as a character study that you could easily apply to people like Tommy Wiseau, it’s a film that will amuse and entertain as well as a showcase for Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. It’s not ironically good, Jenkins just plain great.