*** stars (out of four)
Based on a true story, director Stephen Frears’ new film Florence Foster Jenkins tells the story of a uniquely bad singer (Meryl Streep) who still managed to sing at Carnegie Hall.
Jenkins is a rich heiress who dreamed of being a concert pianist, but those dreams were dashed when she sustained nerve damage to her hand. She devoted her attention to running a theater club and serving as a patron of the arts. But after being moved by an operatic singer, she decides to try it herself. She’s assisted by her husband (Hugh Grant) and an initially befuddled pianist (Simon Helberg).
There’s a lot to like about the film. It’s cliche to point out what an excellent actress Meryl Streep is, but it’s the truth and she does strong work here, and it’s equally matched by Grant and Helberg. The loving relationship between Streep and Grant has more complexity than it seems at first. There’s also a moving message about how people should do what they love for their own benefit, even if they’re not good at it. Jenkins’ story is also a reminder that even the worst artists have the courage to make themselves vulnerable and risk ridicule. It’s a lesson worth remembering for both professional and amateur critics.
The late summer can sometimes serve as a dumping ground for bad studio fare, but that hasn’t been the case at all this past weekend. Sausage Party, Pete’s Dragon, and Florence Foster Jenkins are wildly different films and they’re all worth seeing. Send Hollywood a message by going to see them.