By: Nick Askam
Florence Foster Jenkins is a disappointment of a film that stars Hugh Grant, Meryl Streep, Rebecca Ferguson and Simon Helberg. It is a story about a horrid opera singer who just wants to sing one last time in Carnegie Hall. Florence (Meryl Streep) comes from money and hires the best and the brightest piano player (Simon Helberg) and teacher to try to get her in the best shape possible for this gig. It becomes the job of Bayfield (Hugh Grant) to not have the military men or other attendees get in the way of making this a disaster. He balances his relationship with Florence with Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson), his mistress, to keep these shows going. There are numerous challenges such as paying off journalists or dealing with unruly guests like Agnes Stark (Nina Arianda).
What this film gets right are the performances by most of the cast. Hugh Grant gives one of the best performances I’ve seen from him in years. He’s celebrated and has class. He commands the screen each time he appears. Meryl Streep is great as well. She matches Grant each time they cross the stage together. Rebecca Ferguson is fantastic as the other woman. She’s shown as Grant wants the audience to see her. When she finally confronts Bayfield about the affair, she does it so elegantly and organically. I loved her performance and I wish she had a bigger part. Nina Arianda was great as well. I liked her performances in Master of None and Horace and Pete, so I wasn’t as shocked by how well she did like other people might’ve been. I thought she played her limited role well and brought energy into the film when it was needed.
The only performance I didn’t care for at all was by Simon Helberg. I know he’s probably trying to change his delivery to have less people recognize him from the Big Bang Theory, but he’s got a weird delivery that’s so fake and distracting. The manner in which he is portrayed is rigid and he takes away from whatever else is going on on-screen. I was so distracted by him that I had to turn on the subtitles or I would start cracking up trying to listen to him. His delivery is so weird that it takes away all the emotion of his character and we’re left with a caricature of a person that’s funnier than anything on the Big Bang Theory.
My other big problem with this film is just how pretentious it is. It doesn’t even hide the fact that this movie is completely about having too much wealth and not have any idea what it’s like to be anyone else. Florence’s art that is supposed to bring joy to people is a complete satire of the genre that she’s trying to sing. Her art is nothing more than people making fun of her. If that’s how she wants to bring joy into the world, so be it. But that’s not what she’s intending to do. Someone should’ve told her how much she was butchering her performance. It was annoying for her not to understand what was actually going on with her music. I was disappointed and not willing to deal with this film the second it was over.
Overall, the performances were good, but this film screams pretentious as loud as it can for the entire run time. There were moments where the film tried to show heart, but those were only side stories that ended up being superiorly more interesting than the main story. If you feel like checking your watch every five minutes and hoping that it’s over sooner, then check out Florence Foster Jenkins.