By Kathryn Whitney Boole
“People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.” —Florence Foster Jenkins
“Florence Foster Jenkins” is a touching, comedic yet sad story of a woman whose life spanned the late 1800s into the mid-1900s. She was a product of the mores and social framework of her times. She had been a piano prodigy as a child, even invited to play before President Rutherford B. Hayes. In her teens she had asked her father for funds to continue her studies abroad. Angered when he denied her the money, she eloped with the much older Dr. Frank Jenkins to start her own life. Many years later in life she decided to pursue a career as an operatic singer. This is where the movie begins.
The film offers very detailed glimpses of New York City in 1944 (NYC is played with great believability by Glasgow, Scotland, and Liverpool, England). The colors in both interior and exterior shots saturate the screen and provide an emotional counterpoint to the story.
As other with Stephen Frears films, this is an up-close character study made vivid by the detailed and personal performances of the actors. Hugh Grant as St. Clair Bayfield has developed into a fine actor with the sophisticated nonchalance of Cary Grant and the intriguing comedic enigma of Michael Caine. Simon Helberg (“Big Bang Theory”), having played piano casually in younger days, assured the Frears that he could play classical piano like a maestro for the camera. In order to master these skills at the same time as embracing the character of eccentric pianist “Cosme McMoon,” Helberg practiced hours a day and watched videos of legendary pianists.
In a USA Today interview, Frears says about Florence, “In the end, “it’s her courage and her spirit that you come to admire. Who knows what she heard (in her head)…you had to keep that question alive.”
Two things make this an extraordinarily fascinating film: the real Florence and the actress playing her. Florence must have been born with exceptional musical talent as a child prodigy with the ability to perform work with such a high degree of difficulty. For her to have developed the shortcomings she did as a vocalist in later life, it is my belief that health problems caused a void in her ability to interpret pitch and rhythm properly. For Meryl Streep to be able to accurately mimic Jenkins’ unique vocal mannerisms and range is a feat that could be only accomplished by a truly skilled singer. The actress, who had opera lessons herself in her early teens, has done just that.
There is a moral to the story of the life of “Florence Foster Jenkins”: If your daughter is a talented child prodigy musician and wants to study abroad, and if you have the financial resources, do not deny her! You will understand once you’ve seen the movie.
Rated PG-13. 110 minutes.
Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com.