Movie Review: Florence Foster Jenkins

Sometimes a movie trailer captures my interest, creating anticipation for the upcoming release. Such was the case with this film. I had not heard of it. But I saw previews for it several times, while at the theater to watch another movie. Florence Foster Jenkins trailers not only caught my attention, they pierced my heart as well. In the middle of a busy and full week, I slipped away late this afternoon to watch this enchanting film. 

Florence Foster Jenkins stars Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg. This comedic biography was directed by Stephen Frears and carries a PG-13 rating for brief suggestive material. The film has a run time of 1 hour and 56 minutes.  

Florence Foster Jenkins (Streep), a New York socialite during the early to mid 1900s, has a passion for music. She lives for all things musical, using her influence and wealth to support the arts in her city. She has a loving husband, St. Clair (Grant), a former small time actor, and a circle of adoring friends. 

Florence loves to sing. Nothing touches her heart more deeply than listening to a stirring aria. She has employed various voice teachers throughout her life and devotes herself to her craft. 

The only problem is, Florence can’t sing. 

She doesn’t realize this truth about herself. Her doting husband has shielded her from any unkind or critical remarks, arranging small performances with carefully selected guests whenever Florence feels the urge to sing before an audience. 

However, when Florence decides to begin another round of voice lessons, St. Clair finds his role of greatest supporter and secret protector a challenge. Florence hires a promising young pianist, Cosme McMoon (Helberg), to accompany her. 

Although initially shocked by his generous patron’s singing abilities, Cosme learns to see past Florence’s musical shortcomings. He becomes an ally of St. Clair’s, protecting Florence from ridicule as well. 

Encouraged, Florence unleashes her singing voice on the city and the world, releasing an album and pursuing her lifelong dream of performing in Carnegie Hall, before a sold out audience. 

Is it talent that matters most? Or is it doing what she loves?

This movie was all that the previews hinted it would be…funny, inspiring, deeply moving. I laughed out loud several times. However during most of the film I watched through tear filled eyes and chuckled around a lump in my throat. 

What an amazing woman Florence was. Meryl Streep captures well her child-like whimsy and sense of self. Florence sang her heart out, and delighted in the opportunity to do so. Hugh Grant is one of my favorite actors. It is always a pleasure to watch him perform. His sense of comedic timing is perfect. This was a meaty role that brought him out of semiretirement. I appreciated St. Clair’s devotion to his wife. He never wavered in supporting her dream, although as he pointed out to Cosme, love takes on many forms. 

The real Florence pictured alongside Meryl’s character. 

And it was a joy to see Simon Helberg, most well known for playing Howard on the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory, take on another role. His character, who often had giggling fits, was reminiscent of a young Mozart. 

This movie was a love story, a biography, and an inspirational piece about what is possible when one follows passion.  Florence did what she loved, not caring what anyone else thought or said, as long as she could look into her husband’s eyes and see acceptance and encouragement there. 

I appreciate movies based on true events, and real people. It was worth sitting through end credits to see actual black and white photos of Florence, St. Clair and Cosme. Florence’s performance from her only record played as credits rolled, verifying that technically, she might have been the world’s worst singer. Oh, but she had heart. Florence told her husband, “Some may say that I couldn’t sing, but no one can say that I didn’t sing!” 

Yes, she did. She sang. She was beautiful. I would have been standing and cheering and applauding Florence Foster Jenkins.