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Florence Foster Jenkins
The fact that it is no surprise Meryl Streep delivers a virtuoso performance here shouldn’t deny us the sheer joy of watching her do it.
Jenkins, a character (and I do mean ‘character’) based on a real life New York City wanna be performer is the kind of role that is cat nip for actors. A terrible singer rich enough to stage her own vanity shows, Florence is savvy enough to pay for pedigreed company. Her teacher is one of opera’s finest, her young accompanist, a brilliant composer who needs an angel. Even her husband, an actor with ambitions, knows when to show his loyalty and when to keep his private life private. It’s a set up that seems to work for all involved until Florence decides to take on the big stage: she wants to sing at Carnegie Hall and give free tickets to soldiers fighting the Great War.
Director Stephen Frears takes his time letting the light but sweet story unfurl, allowing us to fall under Florence’s spell ourselves. Initial hilarity, when Streep sings for the first time, fades as we discover a little more about this odd woman saddled with a far less funny backstory. Of course, Streep wouldn’t ever let us not somehow fall just a little bit in love with her blustery patron of the arts. Even when she’s bellowing merrily off key, or bursting in unannounced at her husband’s “other apartment”, her Jenkins brings us right along, sharing her tone deaf gusto, hitting all the high and low notes of her not so harmonious life.
As wonderful as Streep is, the film would not be as poignant as it often is without the truly fine support of her co-star, Hugh Grant. As St Clair Bayfield, Grant shows us that love, even in an untraditional form, is, in itself, a most profound art.