Director Stephen Frears has been directing movies ever since the 1970s. But, he didn’t became well-known until 1985 with My Beautiful Laundrette, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, which featured themes involving homosexuality and racism. Frears had some hits during the 21st century including High Fidelity, The Queen, and Philomena (one of my favorites). Given his old-fashioned style, it’s hard not to be impressed by him. With Florence Foster Jenkins, his latest about the world’s worst opera singer, this is another marvelous movie to add to his massive film repertoire.
Florence (Meryl Streep) is a socialite living in New York City with her husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). She has dreams of becoming an opera singer. St. Clair hires pianist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg a.k.a. Howard Wolowitz from The Big Bang Theory) to accompany her hitting the right notes. Once she hits the stage, Florence thinks she has the most beautiful soprano in the world; while others say she lacks any singing ability. She eventually plans on singing at Carnegie Hall. St. Clair does everything he can for his wife leading up to the big event.
Some of you might be thinking that this movie sounds too good to be true. That is correct. As the founder of the Verdi Club, Florence was really that bad of an opera singer. Almost every audience member tried desperately hard to hold in their laughter while performing in the 1930s and 1940s. However, she was influenced by some well-known singers. For instance, the late David Bowie has a copy of her infamous record The Glory (????) of the Human Voice. He stated, according to The Telegraph, “Florence had, and was unaware of, the worst set of pipes in the world.” He would say that she had so much enthusiasm on stage, she would throw roses to the audience and the basket itself. That’s one of the reasons why Streep’s portrayal is one of the best of the year.
It’s an odd performance for sure, given she can be a wonderful singer (e.g. Into the Woods) and is loved by every member of the Academy. Meryl Streep brings the eccentric personality with a passion for music almost to perfection. Once she starts singing badly, you can’t help but start cracking up on what you are hearing. At the same time it’s easy to feel bad for her since she had been chasing her dreams ever since she was a kid. In one peaceful moment, Florence talks to McMoon about how she wanted to be a concert pianist. “When the nerves damaged in my left arm, that’s not to be,” she says. Then, they start playing Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor” together. I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets an Oscar nod.
As amazing as Meryl Streep is, the biggest standout is Hugh Grant as her husband St. Clair Bayfield. He goes to great heights to make Florence not the best singer in the world, but good enough. Seeing him dancing is definitely worth the price of the ticket. If he doesn’t get nominated for Best Supporting Actor, maybe Helberg’s portrayal of McMoon will. Not only did he actually play the piano, but he also provides the film’s wit.
Stephen Frears brings the old-fashioned feel that the audience often sees every once in a while. Every shot is something to truly behold. It’s quite refreshing to see something as funny and delightful as Florence Foster Jenkins. One of 2016’s best.