Review: FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS

By Liz Lopez

Rating: B+

There are many people who think they can sing and indeed will try out for any of the local or national vocal competitions to be considered for a shot at the big time. If you have ever watched all or even parts of the televised vocal talent shows, you will surely see some of the auditions reflect the variety of skill as well as the lack of talent. Individuals are encouraged to “go for it” by their friends or family, even though there is a slim chance of being taken seriously. Think about the past when there were no shows available and individuals tried to audition, or at least be heard at radio stations or venues. They had a tough time of securing the opportunity to be heard.

In the early part of last century, there was a New York heiress and socialite, Florence Foster Jenkins, who really thought she had talent, plus her husband, St. Clair Bayfield, enabled her dream of becoming a singer, using her money to do so. The upcoming biography, Florence Foster Jenkins, has plenty of comedy, a bit of drama, lots of music, (good and bad), as well as at the core, a romance between this married couple. Inspired by Jenkins, Academy Award®-winner Meryl Streep portrays Florence, and her husband/manager, St. Clair Bayfield is played by Hugh Grant. Florence hires a pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg, “Big Bang Theory”), and he accepts the job thinking she is a true vocalist. The first morning on the job, he realizes the truth and continuously worries about the effect on his own career. It is a great film with Ms. Streep’s performance, but most certainly, some of the best comedic lines and delivery is by Helberg. He says nothing and yet says it all with his facial reactions, amusement and body language. With these three actors in the lead, you will certainly get value from your movie dollars from the script written by Nicholas Martin and directed by Stephen Frears.

I also have to give props to Nina Arianda who stars as Agnes Stark, the new young wife of a wealthy patron of the arts. She has a “Marilyn Monroe” effect on men, with her style of dress and sassiness. Her husband, Phineas (Stanley Townsend) loves taking her out on the town, but repeatedly tells her to behave, as if she is a child. The scene of her belting out laughing and on the floor is a hoot.

Set in 1940s New York, Florence and Cosmé work together obsessively on her songs with plenty of encouragement (and funding) by the former English actor who does his best to protect his love from the reality that so many find her completely without talent. She believes St. Clair daily, that is, when he is not at his own apartment (paid by Florence) with his mistress, Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson).

The huge challenge comes in 1944 when Florence goes to Carnegie Hall while he is away playing golf and books a date to perform a public concert. She also gifts one thousand seats to individuals she selected.

One of the many eye opening pieces of information I learned about the individuals, aside from Florence’s health, is about the pianist. Once Helberg’s character stated in the film he was from San Antonio, Texas and his first name is Cosme, I wondered about his heritage. According to Wikipedia, he is born in Mexico to the McMunn family of Irish heritage and later moved to San Antonio when he was approximately 10 years old. A decade later, he moved to New York in pursuit of his music studies, with a path that led to meeting Florence Foster Jenkins and his storied performance in Carnegie Hall.

Florence Foster Jenkins is rated PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned) for mildly suggestive scenes and possible eardrum rupturing. The running time is 1 hour 50 minutes and opens in theaters August 12.

Source: Paramount Pictures

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