Year Released: 2016
Directed by: Stephen Frears
Starring: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant , Simon Helberg
(PG-13, 110 min.)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
“People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing.”–Florence Foster Jenkins
Take a break from the daily headlines that bleed doom and gloom and treat yourself to this delightful comedy. Where the chief worry seems keeping a lid on the audiences for an exquisitely untalented Manhattan socialite who fancies herself an opera diva.
That task falls mainly on her long-suffering spouse, St. Clair Bayfield, (Hugh Grant at his unctuous best), who maintains an invitation only audience consisting of her loyal friends and fellow hangers on. One of which lets it slip that she is quite deaf. Certainly an ideal listener, you will agree, after your first dose of Florence at her enthusiastic best.
Part of the fun is watching the facial expressions of her newly hired accompanist, Cosme McMoon, played by “Big Bang’s” Simon Helberg. He first listens to her slaughter Mozart – it is I believe, but it is hard to tell with Florence’s caterwauling after all. Astonishment gives way to disbelief, and finally a speechless awe punctuated by Cosme’s half-moon arched brows.
St. Claire, or Whitey as Florence affectionately calls him, sits with a resolute smile on his face, like an indulgent papa at his daughter’s violin recital. The screeching notes kept from piercing his ears by resolute will alone.
Meryl Streep as Florence imbues her naïve heiress with just a smidgeon of self-awareness, keeping her on the edge of dangerous self-delusion, but never letting her plunge headlong into its abyss. In fact, it is Florence herself who remarks with a wink,
People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing.
All three leads seem to be enjoying themselves immensely, too. So much is said with a tilt of the eyebrow – one of Hugh Grant’s specialties exploited to perfection here – or the arched ones of the young Cosme lending a glorious less subtle echo. Streep’s Florence makes us forget completely her 2013 role as Violet in August: Osage County, a woman as harsh and unforgiving as the vast Oklahoma plains from which her character arises.
Florence’s soft brown eyes melt in ecstasy when she is enthralled with music, no matter whether it is the truly superb voice of real artist or her own outrageous attempts at such. Those eyes have the same trusting devotion for St. Claire. She sinks into his shoulder in the back of a cab like a content hound cozying up to a warm fire.
Our perception of each of the three main characters changes as we watch their interactions. Streep imbues her character with an underlying self-awareness that she hides as much from herself as those in her protective bubble. We also learn a few details of her history that make her a more sympathetic, as well.
Cosme, whose self-doubts are the mirror image of Florence’s bold confidence, struggles to overcome them, finding courage and loyalty after St. Claire does some good old English “bucking up.”
Though Streep has the title role, it is Grant’s performance that seems the most impressive. On the surface, he seems the same self-serving charmer he plays so effortlessly. He cajoles his wealthy wife, tucks her safely into bed, and goes off to his own apartment, which he shares with a paramour.
However, as the film progresses, he somehow manages to make this arrangement both more and less than it seems. There is genuine love for Florence, and more than self-aggrandizing behind his sheltering of her. He ends up, in fact, as a rather decent chap.
Those of us mature enough to remember when comedy was wit rather than witless, will welcome this film like the summer rains.
Not to miss.
Second only to her love of opera, with herself as the diva, of course, is Florence Foster Jenkins’s devotion to potato salad. With chives, please.
In fact, whenever she hosted a musical soirée, potato salad was almost as overflowing as her sequined gowns and requisite flat arias. And it was made by the tubful, kind of like bathtub gin, only this never sent an Elliot Ness on the prowl.
Now if horrific singing were a crime, she would have been locked up pronto.
Enjoy our delicious recipe as an end of summer treat, and if you can stand it, here is an audio of the real Florence singing. Hardly easy listening, but certainly an experience never to forget.
Potato Salad with Chives
"This is a hit at parties and it's so easy to prepare. The lovely fresh chopped chives add color and delicious flavor. You can add crushed garlic or finely chopped onion to it as well if you like!"
1 3/4 pounds new potatoes, halved
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives for garnish
Place the potatoes into a pan, and fill with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain, and cool under cold running water.
In a large bowl, stir together the sour cream, mayonnaise, and 1/2 cup of chives. When the potatoes have cooled, stir them into this mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with remaining chives.