What a national treasure is Meryl Streep! Almost eighty films, nineteen Oscar nominations over a career spanning four decades and she’s still going strong. Nothing could demonstrate that fact more fully than her performance in Florence Foster Jenkins. She plays the title character, a wealthy New York socialite in the 1940s who is determined to sing opera, even though she cannot carry a tune. Streep is a trained singer, who once pursued vocal training in opera. For someone to consciously hit as many wrong notes as she does in this film is indeed a wonder.
Dressed in what appears to be a matronly fat suit, sprouting wrinkles and a wig that always seem to be slightly askew, she presents a delightfully eccentric, frumpy woman careening dangerously close to parody.
Beneath the humorous and almost over-the-top presentation, however, lies a tender love story between Florence and her husband, St. Clair Bayfield, solidly played by Hugh Grant. St. Clair has his own apartment, complete with mistress, but as the story progresses, this secret life gives way to the devotion he and his wife share. Their relationship steals your heart.
Streep takes chances like few actresses do nowadays. I will be so bold to say that she’s the finest actress of hers, or any generation. Julia Child (Julie & Julia), Margaret Thatcher (The Iron Lady), Sophie (Sophie’s Choice), Helen Archer (Ironweed), Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada), and Ricki (Ricki and the Flash) are just some of the performances that show an actress with more range and depth than anyone working today, Perhaps ever.
This movie isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Some may feel it’s too broad and flirts with lampoon, but let Streep work her magic, and you’ll come away marveling at a portrait of a sympathetic and warm woman who only wanted to sing.
At the end of the film, Florence says something to the effect that people may say she couldn’t sing, but no one can say she didn’t sing. Sing out, Florence!