Florence Foster Jenkins

August 14, 2016 at 4:17 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

What a lovely palette cleanser this was after the ugly meatfest that was yesterday’s film. Set in the early 1940s, this is the largely true story of the eponymous socialite who, despite her resounding lack of talent, fancied herself an opera singer. This could have been a snide, cynical affair that took its humor in winks and nods by laughing at Mrs Jenkins; playing to the ugliness in all of us is the easiest form of humor, shallow though it may be. Instead, in the hands of director Stephen Frear’s (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “Philomena,” “High Fidelity”), we get a light (dare I say lyrical) film that dares us to laugh at such a brave and tender person. In fact, the film is filled with bravery of all sorts. Several times, it makes a point of the bravery of the soldiers fighting in the War, as though suggesting the link between their obvious, overt bravery and the more subtle bravery displayed by each of the main characters. It takes a certain type of bravery to believe in yourself so fearlessly and another, beautiful sort of bravery to love and protect such a woman the way her husband (Hugh Grant) and pianist (Simon Helberg) did. I am not sure how difficult it is to pretend to be a bad singer, but I imagine it must be difficult to play that person with sympathy and reverence. Meryl Streep made her strong and delicate, at the same time. And, in a way that only the finest actors can, she let fleeting moments of awareness cross her face; her Jenkins knew more than she let on but chose to remain naive. Grant played her husband beautifully. Despite his many flaws, he so obviously loved her completely and it was his love and generosity that moored the film. The genuine surprise for me was Helberg, who I have only known from “The Big Bang Theory.” He did a terrific job of embodying the prim Cosmé McMoon and, ultimately, his journey was the audience’s. From start to finish this was a lovely, sweet, funny and touching film. In the cynical and mean-spirited time in which we now live, there is a lesson to be learned here about the way we treat each other.

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