Review: Florence Foster Jenkins

You pretty much know that award season is starting when a dramatic film starring Meryl Sreep opens to a wide audience. It doesn’t even have to be a good film. The Academy members are drawn to Ms. Streep like raccoons to an open trash can. Maybe there’s good stuff in there, maybe not, but the coons are going in anyway.

Meryl Streep has been nominated for an Oscar on 19 occasions – more than any other male or female in history. And contrary to popular belief, she’s actually only won three times. Her first – a Supporting Actress win – came for 1979’s Kramer vs Kramer. 1982’s Sophie’s Choice brought her a Leading Actress win. Two in three years. A decent run. Then she went winless until 2011’s Iron Lady. That’s a 29 year drought. She’s stayed relevant. though, and she’s proven to be a formidable talent and as reliable as that cast iron skillet you have in your kitchen.

In 2016, Meryl plays the title role in Florence Foster Jenkins – a true story set in 1944 (Academy eyebrow raised) about a sick older woman (there goes the other eyebrow) whose dream is to sing at Carnegie Hall while not realizing she has no talent at all (the Academy’s tongue is actually hanging out at this point).

Meryl Streep and Simon Helberg in Florence Foster Jenkins

The story is, in fact, real. Ms. Jenkins was a New York City staple in the early 20th century, and she lived and breathed the arts. As the film begins, we are introduced to Jenkins and her husband St. Claire Bayfield, played by Hugh Grant. Ms. Jenkins decides that she should ready herself for a performance, and she hires a quiet and quirky piano player to help her – played by The Big Bang Theory‘s Simon Helberg. The joke, really, is that she seems to be the only person that doesn’t realize she’s terrible. It’s up to everyone around her to support her through her pipe dreams and tell her she’s great. It’s when she accidentally becomes a sensation that things get out of control.

Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins

Hugh Grant has always been a favorite of mine, and somehow without notice, he went and got himself old. OK, so he’s actually only 56, and I’m sure there was some hair and makeup involved in this project, but the babyfaced guy America fell in love with in the mid 1990s has been replaced by a distinguished gentleman. I’m not suggesting this is bad in any way. It actually works really well for him. While watching the film, I was constantly reminded of Robert Redford and how he too seemed to get more handsome as the years went on. Perhaps we will see a whole new generation of Hugh Grant films. Ones where he plays the lovable granddad or the about-to-retire police officer. If so, I’m excited. Grant’s work in FFJ is respectable, but the film feels forgettable.

When I say “forgettable,” I do so in way that doesn’t mean the film was bad. It was OK. In two or three years, when you ask me to name some Meryl Streep films, I probably will still default to Kramer vs Kramer and Silkwood and The Deer Hunter and Sophie’s Choice (which I hated). This one isn’t good enough to be on the classics list. But, she delivered another performance that the Academy will likely smile upon – for no other reason than someone left the lid off the can, and the coons had free reign.

That being said, I don’t think she necessarily deserves a nomination. Sure, she sings throughout the film. And although she can actually sing, I wonder how hard it is to sing bad on purpose. I think just about anyone could sing bad on purpose. Except maybe Cher. Which brings me back to Silkwood. How about you save the $10 you were going to spend on FFJ and you go rent Silkwood instead. Deal?

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