Set during the Second World War, the film Florence Foster Jenkins charts a story about a novice soprano, who is adamant about pursuing a musical career despite never receiving any favourable judgments over the question of her singing talent. As the founder of the Verdi Club Florence has friends who are sympathetic to her ears, a husband who gave up his faltering acting career to be there for his wife as she pursues her musical interests and is the subject of constant ridicule from commentators in music, and audiences of her performances alike. British director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons and The Queen) brings the tragic (and sometimes darkly comedic) biopic remarkably alive. The titular character in the film is played by Meryl Streep and the film also pairs Streep with Hugh Grant, who plays St. Clair Bayfield and Simon Helberg, who plays Cosmé McMoon, respectively.
What makes the subject of the film interesting is Streep’s strong desires to sing even though she is terrible at it. Bayfield’s money goes a very long way to ensure Streep’s hopes aren’t shattered beyond repair, but in the end a terribly scathing review by the New York Post does do it. Money gave Florence the chance to perform in Carnegie Hall, and her 1944 opera singing episode there turns into a rather memorable figure in Carnegie’s illustrious history for it’s distastefulness and the ruckus of laughter that spread out amongst audiences when Florence had opened her mouth to passionately sing, which really no amount of money could cure.
There is very little exploration of the American scene during the war, except for soldiers being part of the audience at Carnegie Hall, which was disappointing to say the least. What was entertaining was how Florence’s marriage with Bayfield is very absurd: they do not live underneath one roof and there is no sex in the marriage because Florence tragically contracted syphilis from a previous romantic liaison. It was interesting how Bayfield simply romps up his masculine sexual urges with a mistress called Kathleen Weatherley because of the absence of a sex life with his wife, but strange how emotionless and accepting Florence is of that. Despite the odd marriage between the two, Bayfield does his part to buy critics and also shows signs of affection towards Florence, albeit rarely.
McMoon and Florence’s friendship, on the other hand, is a roller coaster ride of ups and downs; McMoon is horrified, at first at the level of support Florence has despite her lack of talent in opera music, but a recording tape of her singing manages to alter it. McMoon’s eventual friendship with Florence does nothing for doubts in his mind over her singing ability at Carnegie Hall, however as he confides in Bayfield how pleased he is to be able to accompany Florence in singing in such a distinguished space in New York. The film isn’t melodramatic at all but instead it is an emotion-filled and realistic portrayal of a tale of an aspiring music artist, who wants to continue singing despite her bad reviews, and a kind of soul-crushing criticism she is often subjected to for it.