Florence Foster Jenkins ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

It’s wartime 1940s and the place is New York City. Meryl Streep is Florence Foster Jenkins: society matron, patroness of the arts (particularly music) and self-deluded singer. She has a smirking husband (Hugh Grant), a fawning vocal coach, a devoted maid, and a piano accompanist named Cosmé McMoon (played by Simon Helberg, who resembles French writer Marcel Proust). Mr. McMoon is chosen over a bunch of other pianists because in his audition he plays “The Swan” by Camille Saint-Saens, which reminds Florence of when she was young. Right away when Mr. McMoon hears Florence sing, he knows that something is not as it should be. She shrieks and screeches and is led to believe by those around her that she is a wonderful singer with perfect technique. What Mr. McMoon eventually comes to realize is that everybody loves the good-natured and well-meaning Florence and that nobody has the heart to tell her she isn’t nearly as good a singer as she thinks she is.

Florence isn’t well, we find, and probably won’t live much longer. She contracted syphilis from her first husband on their wedding night when she was eighteen and, in these days before penicillin, has had it ever since, almost fifty years. The doctor says he has never seen anybody live so long with the disease. Her second husband, for his part, loves her and is devoted to her but has a much-younger girlfriend on the side; he reveals to the doctor that he and Florence have always had a sort of platonic, non-sexual partnership, so he never contracted the disease.

When Florence gives a concert at Carnegie Hall, her husband goes to great lengths to buy up all the newspapers in the neighborhood so she won’t see the scathing (true, so, therefore, unkind) reviews. She gets a copy of one of the newspapers anyway and discovers that people consider her the “worst singer ever” and are only laughing at her. She has a moment of self-realization that, up to this moment, has eluded her. 

Florence Foster Jenkins is, we are told at the beginning, based on true events, meaning, I suppose, that part of it is true and part of it made up. Simon Helberg, who plays Florence’s accompanist, is, in reality, a pianist himself and plays all the piano parts, which is truly impressive. Meryl Streep does her own singing and is, as always, superb in the title role. Now, if she will only leave politics alone and stick to acting, everything will be fine.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

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