Passion can be a tricky thing, when someone is passionate about something and happens to be talented in that field, it can be beautiful. However, many people can find themselves frustrated that the thing they’re passionate about is beyond their skillset.
For example, I am extremely passionate about music and playing the works of the greatest composers, yet I know that I couldn’t write my own music. I could try and it might be passable, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near the level of other composers I admire. The third and most painful category is represented in the film Florence Foster Jenkins, when a person is incredibly passionate about something and unable to see that they simply aren’t gifted enough in that field no matter how hard they try.
Florence Foster Jenkins is directed by Stephen Frears, director of acclaimed films The Queen and Philomena, and stars Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg of Big Bang Theory. Streep plays the titular “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a New York heiress who loves music, singing and anything related to the arts. While perfectly contented to donate money for other artists, Jenkins also fancies herself quite the talented performer even though it’s obvious to everyone within earshot that she isn’t. Later in her life she decides to turn her attention to performing and eventually pays for herself to have a concert at Carnegie Hall.
First of all, Meryl Streep can make any bad movie tolerable and any good movie great. This film falls into the latter category, a fine movie that is elevated tenfold thanks to the magic that is Meryl Streep.
It’s impressive just how bad Streep – a talented singer in real life – can make her voice sound, and her performance scenes as Jenkins are the highlights of the film. The singing itself is painful, but the enthusiasm with which she delivers it is perfect. She and Frears are able to find the obvious comedy in an untalented diva, but are also able to humanize her to where the viewers continuously find themselves rooting for her.
Jenkins never comes across as unlikable and scenes that delve into her past will make you sympathize with her even as she butchers all the songs she tries to sing. The tone of support and love is reminiscent of films like Lars and the Real Girl and leaves the audience with a feeling of warmth that will stick even after the film has ended. Helberg is great as Jenkins’ loyal pianist while Grant has honestly never been better than he is as Jenkins’ supportive and doting husband.
Overall the film is a pretty straight-forward biographical movie and would ultimately be lost in the shuffle of similar movies, but the performances – especially those of Streep and Grand – elevate it to something much more memorable.