Helming biographical stories of strong, inspirational women tend to be director Stephen Fears’ calling. Helen Mirren dazzled in The Queen and Judi Dench performed exceptionally to break our hearts as Philomena. Influential presences don’t come more prominent, however, than Meryl Streep, starring infamously as “the world’s worst singer”, Florence Foster Jenkins.
Streep stars as Jenkins, a popular American socialite known for her love of music in the New York scene. Garnering plentiful fans merely from her social standing, Florence’s dreams of being an operatic singer come to fruition when husband St Clair Beyfield (Hugh Grant) tries his best to ward off those that ridicule Florence’s truthful nature of being unable to carry a full tune. Hiring young pianist and composer Cosme McMoon (The Big Bang Theory‘s Simon Helberg), both pair to fulfil each others dreams.
Frears pits the vigorous screen presence of Streep against a blistering, lively 1940’s New York City; city-goers donned to the neck in jewels and extravagant body wear and the men dapper and suave. Florence, at the height of her game, has led a happy, albeit incredibly shelved life swamped with adoring friends, fans and of course her devoted husband — though the agreement both Beyfield and Jenkins have isn’t massively clear as he returns home to girlfriend Kathleen, played by Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation‘s Rebecca Ferguson.
Grant appears in form as though we’ve not seen the actor in a decent role in decades. He holds firm and teeters on brilliance as he balances the character’s wilfulness to cherish the woman who essentially pays for his extravagant lifestyle and the woman he actually loves, though do we feel remorse for the archetype of New York’s music scene for the lies or value his attempts at aiding Florence’s desperate dreams of stardom on the stage of Carnegie Hall? Frears gently applies the latter and avoids risk by delving into the conventional portrait of a woman who is most irregular.
Streep, without surprise, delights and moves as a woman dampened by her illness but motivated by her unabating passion, and much like the actress herself, she’s a force to be reckoned with. This performance is more than a simple tribute, but an ode to the courage and the bravery which wasn’t moderated by any price, including life itself.
The film’s a general crowd-pleaser, sprightly rendering a plucky story of one woman’s desires. Heartwarming and funny in all the right places, it doesn’t quite carry the emotional weight of Frears’ previous Philomena but this charming biographical tribute won’t harm anyone.
Dir: Stephen Frears
Scr: Nicholas Martin
Cast: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson
Prd: Michael Kuhn, Tracey Seaward
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Runtime: 110 minutes