Starring: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg
Director: Stephen Frears
Running Time: 111 mins
Florence Foster Jenkins is a British film about the true story of a wealthy woman who, despite having no singing ability whatsoever, becomes the talk of New York City as her records grow in popularity, and she begins to sell out concert venues.
This is a nice enough film. Light-hearted, funny and wonderful to look at, it’s the sort of movie that’ll definitely put a smile on your face, and give you a solidly entertaining two hours. With decent performances and directing too, there’s a lot to like, although its somewhat repetitive story that often lacks the depth it wants means it’s never the most engrossing watch.
Let’s start on the plus side, however, with the film’s visuals. This is one of those movies that scores very highly on production and costume design, with a clearly huge attention to detail in recreating 1940s New York City. Florence Foster Jenkins’ lavish apartment is delightful, the wide array of sophisticated and colourful outfits give the film great vibrancy, and all of the digital imaging of old-timey New York is both hugely convincing and lovely to look at.
As a result, you get a real sense for the atmosphere of New York at the time. Whilst the film wants to bring across a message about music being the life and soul of the city, what actually comes across most is the city’s contrasts between the aristocratic classes and the normal people, something that I’ve never really seen looked into before on the big screen.
At the centre of all that is Hugh Grant’s character. Arguably far more important than Meryl Streep’s Foster Jenkins ever is, Grant plays an upper-class Englishman who, whilst married to Foster Jenkins, treats her more as an old woman he is looking after, all the while with a middle-class woman he lets his hair down with.
That stark contrast between upper-class and everyday life in New York City is really interesting to see, and watching him switching between worlds makes Grant’s character the only really engrossing thing about the whole film. Also, Hugh Grant himself is very good in this movie. Not playing his typical dashing Englishman from a Richard Curtis chick flick, he’s actually very suave and composed throughout, and offers the core of the film’s heart, as although he knows deep down about his wife’s horrific singing, he just wants to do anything possible to make her happy, and that’s something that really helped me to enjoy this movie even more.
When it comes to the comedy, a lot of its centred around Florence Foster Jenkins’ awful singing. Whilst it’s at first piercingly painful to listen to, the sheer ridiculousness of it (even though it is a true story) makes it actually quite funny to watch, and made for a good few laughs over the first hour or so.
However, this does create a couple of problems that really bring the movie down. For one, the laughing-at-her-awful-singing joke is pretty much the only one in the movie, and it does eventually wear thin (albeit a lot later than I would have expected), ultimately becoming a little annoying in the film’s final act.
Also, it makes Meryl Streep’s character feel very redundant. The story does follow Grant’s character mollycoddling her again and again, but by the end of the film, I didn’t feel anywhere near the same emotional connection to or interest in Florence Foster Jenkins as I did her husband, and that makes the film’s attempts at making her life story an uplifting and crowd-pleasing one a lot less effective.
Overall, Florence Foster Jenkins is a nice little movie. It’s not one that has any great emotional or general intrigue, and it becomes very repetitive towards its final act, but its light-hearted and vibrant atmosphere make it a wonderfully enjoyable watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.