Back in the high society days when newspapers ran popular opinion, soldiers fought and relaxed en masses and something called records were played on a gadget by the name of the radio, there was a woman by the name of Florence Foster Jenkins who lived for music.
But the circumstances of her life conspired against her to truly present the beauty of such a gift with the world.
Oh, but her husband and her money dictated otherwise.
Such is the true tale behind the movie of her name, directed by Stephen Frears from the screenplay by Nicholas Martin. Oh, it’s a pretty picture of those days in the 1900s in Manhattan, when Carnegie Hall was the pinnacle for Cole Porter the songwriter to visit with Telulah Bankhead the actress on his arm.
A full house for a 6:50 p.m. Saturday show in one of Regal Cinemas’ mid-size theaters in its spread in Syracuse’s mega shopping, dining and entertaining complex Destiny USA took in the work of Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins, Hugh Grant as her mostly doting husband and Simon Helberg as her pianist with wide eyes and open ears.
Streep was the grand dame of American movies that she was and is, bigger than life. Grant was solid, half-doter and half-cad. Theirs was a complicated relationship, which the actors embraced and relayed, every nuance.
Helberg was a star as the talented piano player taken in as a startled accompanist, building upon his addled sideman in TV’s sitcom The Big Bang Theory with nice emotional depth as he registers surprise and realization for the layers beneath his bosses.
The underlying voice behind this film is Florence Foster Jenkins’ voice.
Everybody close to her knows exactly what it is. She doesn’t.
Everybody else in Jenkins’ life had to decide whether or not they’re in or out in letting her go on believing. Deceit vs. love.
The crowds at her concerts are harder to convince.
So you sit there thinking, are you a laugher, or are you an enabler?
I laughed. I also thought that Streep was over the top in these concert scenes, with her vocal theatrics and mannerisms. And, really, why did this woman deserve a movie?
But when the credits roll, and they show you some real facts about her singing career and the people who loved her, well, OK. The people around me were digging it, awful real voice and all. It came into better focus. And my dear wife Karen liked the movie a lot.
Do you think you’d laugh at the bad voice or cheer at the big heart? What’s your favorite Meryl Streep movie, and why? What’s your favorite Hugh Grant movie, and why?