Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins: Solid Acting and Great Storytelling

Today's adventure was off to see Florence Foster Jenkins with Meryl Streep in the title role and Hugh Grant as her second "husband" St. Clair Bayfield. The cast is supported by Simon Helberg as her Foster's accompanist, Cosmé McMoon. The movie, based on the real-life, tone-deaf soprano and New York socialite, is solid storytelling with quite a memorable performance by actress extraordinaire, Meryl Streep. 

The story is loosely based on Florence Foster Jenkins and her one appearance at Carnegie Hall in 1944.  There are some details left out and probably some pretty liberal stories added especially for the supporting cast.  The actual details of Jenkins life is a bit more complicated, but historically it is pretty clear that her second husband, a Shakespearean actor turned manager, protected her from actual critics and surrounded her with friends who would go to great lengths to protect her. It seems that she really was completely unaware of how badly she performed, but among her admirers were Cole Porter and Enrico Caruso. There is even a story that Cole Porter would dig his cane into his foot during her performances to keep from laughing.  It is also clear that all the real news critics who attended her one public performance at Carnegie Hall were less than kind.  It was not just one critic as the movie would have us believe.  The real Jenkins collapsed five days after the performance from a heart attack while shopping and died a month later.  During her life, she released nine songs on five 78 records from 1941 to 1944. 

The center theme of the Florence Foster Jenkins is clearly about love and passion.  Jenkins' marriage to her second husband was a complicated one both historically and fictionally.  It is clear though that he loved her, and there was very little he would not do to protect her from discovering that her music was often a source of amusement for those who heard her or had her records.  She was clearly driven by her love and passion for music and the elaborate costumes that she designed and wore.  While the movie does mention much about her long-time struggle with syphilis which was given to her by her first husband. It leaves it to the audience to decide how much the disease had affected not just her cognitive abilities, but her ability to actually hear what she sounded like. It is clear that she did have some musical ability having actually played the piano for President Hayes before she had damage to one arm in the late 1800's.  The portrayal of her in the movie make pulls no punches about how ludicrous she sounded, but by the end, we all understood the beauty that she heard in her own protected and musical world.

The acting by Streep, who can actually sing, is as usual stellar.  She creates a complicated and layered character which we find both amusing and moving.  She is eccentric, self-absorbed without being egotistical, and a truly loving character.  Hugh Grant is, well, Hugh Grant.  He plays once again that caring and careful leading-man character that he always plays. Simon Helberg is the third part of this interesting performance bringing to life the soft-spoken pianist who in later life became interested in of all things, body building.  It may be unfortunate that Helberg has such a memorable character as his Big Bang Theory's Howard Wolowitz, but the gentle and caring Cosmé McMoon also makes his performance a wonderful surprise. 

Florence Foster Jenkins, while a bit predictable, is a good story.  We laugh and tear up just as we should. It is well worth your time.