Twitter review: Meryl Streep is, as usual, wonderful to watch. It’s too bad she’s playing a character who can’t sing and is stuck with a boring Hugh Grant.
Spoiler-free review: While I was watching this film, I had to keep thinking of a different Meryl Streep film, Postcards From The Edge. In that film, Meryl plays an actress who is battling drug addiction while having to live with her boozy mother played by Shirley MacLaine. Towards the end of the film, we see that Shirley’s character has to wear a wig (or a scarf wrapped around her head in a pinch) because she has so little actual hair, and that film closes with Meryl singing “I’m Checking Out”. So I know that Meryl can sing. And she can act (I still have a bit of a crush on her, but that would be more Meryl from 30 years ago) [Gad, that makes me feel old!]. So it’s to her credit that she is able to pull off playing a character who is awful at singing, but completely oblivious about it.
The film is about the title character, Florence Foster Jenkins. Being someone with a sizeable amount of cash, she is able to live in her own world, which includes being patron to a wealthy club and having Hugh Grant’s St. Clair Bayfield as her husband. Bayfield makes sure that only good reviews are printed of Florence, while living with his mistress Kathleen in an apartment in Brooklyn. When Florence decides to take singing lessons, she hires Cosme McMoon, a pianist who spends most of the film nervously trying to keep his mouth shut so he can continue to collect the money he’s earning. After awhile, Florence decides that she wants to sing on the stage of Carnegie Hall. Fearful that this will puncture the perfect world Florence is living in, Bayfield has to first try and convince Florence not to go through with this, then has to try and help Florence and Cosme come to terms with the show they are about to put on.
Meryl Streep does a very good job in making you believe she is someone who cannot sing. The only problem here is that there are a lot of minutes devoted to Florence singing arias from Mozart and others way off key (when she began singing The Queen Of The Night’s aria, for a few seconds I was thinking of the scene in the film Amadeus, one of my favorite films; that moment came to a shattering end when Meryl’s Florence sings the high notes way off key). The other problem I have with this film is Hugh Grant. He’s a good enough actor, and he’s not bad in this film, but I never quite felt like he truly loved Florence, as the film eventually tries to make you believe. There is one brief moment when he’s in a bar with Kathleen and he hears a record Florence had made, and tries to take the record back. But that is really the only moment when I could believe that he had feelings for Florence, other than his grip on her money.
Spolier-filled review: Being a feature film and not a documentary, this film takes some artistic licenses with Florence’s end, as well as Bayfield’s relationship with Katherine. According to Wikipedia, Bayfield actually married Katherine after Florence died. Whether they had a relationship while Florence was alive or not, I don’t know, but the film tries to make Bayfield the one who is controlling the money as much as possible. It might have made for a bit more of an interesting take had the film let Florence be more in control of her money, and let Bayfield perhaps sweat a bit more about Florence finding out about his affair.
Similarly, the big reveal that Florence had been carrying her will around in her briefcase the whole time was a bit boring. I would have liked to have seen pages of musical notes coming out of the bag. After all, Florence had actual talent with music. She just couldn’t sing. It’s too bad for her she lived when she did, and not 60 years later. She might have been able to be a patron to William Hung.