CAPSULE: In the kindest conspiracy of rich people we have seen in films for a long time, the members of the exclusive Verdi Club music appreciation society do not tell their leader, the eponymous Florence Foster Jenkins, that her singing is deplorably bad. Florence goes through life with her husband and her music accompanist protecting here from the painful truth. The script by Nicholas Martin, directed by Stephen Frears, is uneven. At times it is quite funny, but more of the time it seems aimless. While the lead couple are less interesting than we would want, the film is perked up by the presence of Simon Helberg as a piano accompanist with an extremely expressive face. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Love means never having to say, "You have a terrible singing voice." At least that is true in upper class New York of 1944. The leaders of the upper crust belong to the very patrician Verdi Club, a sort of music appreciation society. The center of the club are Florence Foster Jenkins (played by Meryl Streep) and her husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). These are about the nicest wealthy people we have seen in films for a while. At the same time they are all conspirators. They all appreciate fine music, and Florence often sings for them. The conspiracy, led by Bayfield, is that they all share the secret that Florence is an absolutely terrible singer. And they all conspire to keep the secret from Florence. Nobody can let on to Florence that her singing is painful to hear. And everybody wants to make sure that nobody reveals to Florence just how bad her singing really is. Guests who laugh at Florence's singing are immediately ostracized and banished.
Bayfield suspects that eventually it will get back to his wife just how awkward her singing voice really is, but the script by Nicholas Martin gives Bayfield reason to hold off that time as far as possible. Bayfield's marriage to Florence has more secrets than just his wife's problem. Florence has medical problems and Bayfield has a girlfriend he does not want his wife to find out about. But the big secret in the film is Florence's level of talent and at times the secrets build on themselves and the story has a touch of Oscar Wilde humor. Some of the set-ups end in disappointment. There is a bit of a mystery surrounding a briefcase. We wait to find out the solution of the mystery, but when we get it, it just rates an, "Oh. Okay."
Streep is very good in the title role, but the script fails to make her someone I would want to know more about. Jenkins is just a vain woman who has had something of a hard time and now has to be protected from her friends' true opinion of her. Streep also does her own singing, bad and good. Hugh Grant is really just playing an older version of a character he has played too many times, a role not very demanding of him. The surprise for me was Simon Helberg, playing Cosmé McMoon. I see that he is a regular on "The Big Bang Theory" and has used that experience to hone his comic skills. His face is a sort of Greek chorus all by itself, commenting on the action of the story.
The truth is that we come out of the film respecting how much the two main characters love each other, but their characters have not been enough filled out for us to be very touched by their love. They are nice people and you wish them well, but there is no chemistry between them, little sense of humor, and not very much empathy value. I rate FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
[Note: I looked up Christian McKay, who played the hostile reviewer, and thought he looked a lot like Orson Welles. If I were making a film with Welles as a character I would cast him in the role. Looking his filmography I see that his first feature film role was in the film ME AND ORSON WELLES (2008) playing ... who else? ... Orson Welles.]
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4136084/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/florence_foster_jenkins_2016
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2016 Mark R. Leeper