Florence Foster Jenkins

Posted on August 11, 2016 at 5:29 pm

Copyright 2016 BBC Films
Copyright 2016 BBC Films

The charm of the popular “Lip Synch Battle” series is the way that the contestants, all very talented and successful performers, transcend the limits of race and gender — and other limits, too, like vocal range. In her way, real-life heiress Florence Foster Jenkins was doing the same thing a century ago. Her dedication to music was monumental. So was her lack of talent. But she lived a blissful life with a devoted husband, staging elaborate tableaux and concerts. Like the emperor with the non-existent and therefore invisible new clothes, she was surrounded by people who never told her that her singing was a disaster in every category, from hitting the right note to staying in any single key from measure to measure.

In the second film of 2016 based on the life of Ms. Jenkins, Meryl Streep gives (of course) a performance of exquisite humanity and precision. (Earlier this year, the French film, “Marguerite,” was also inspired by Jenkins.) You have to know how to sing well (see “Mamma Mia,” “Postcards from the Edge,” and “Ricki and the Flash”) to sing this badly and you have to be an actor of sublime perfection to make terrible singing funny and brave and poignant. Hugh Grant is also superb as the magnificently named St. Clair Bayfield, Jenkins’ consort, a failed Shakespearean actor who shares Jenkins’ passion for performance and almost envies her complete freedom from self-awareness.

There are lovely performances from Nina Arianda as a brassy showgirl who married a wealthy man, Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”) as Bayfield’s girlfriend, and “Big Bang Theory’s” Simon Helberg as Jenkins’ long-suffering accompanist, the equally magnificently named Cosmé McMoon. Jenkins is the ultimate exemplar of the Dunning-Kruger syndrome: those who are least able are also worst at assessing their own ability. The fun of this film, far more than laughing smugly at Jenkins’ cluelessness, is the fantasy of having endless resources to create our own fantasies of stardom.

Parents should know that this film includes drinking, smoking, sexual references and non-explicit situation, and a sad death.

Family discussion: Was St. Clair right to hide the truth from Florence? What do we learn from her visit to Cosme?

If you like this, try: The documentary “Florence Foster Jenkins: A World Of Her Own”

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Based on a true story Biography Comedy Drama Musical

Florence Foster Jenkins: The Real Story

Posted on August 9, 2016 at 3:36 pm

This week the second movie of the year based on the life of Florence Foster Jenkins opens in theaters with Meryl Streep as the woman whose love for music was almost as monumental as her lack of talent.

Florence Foster Jenkins was born in 1868, the daughter of a wealthy family who was a child prodigy on the piano and performed for President Rutherford B. Hayes. She wanted to study music but her father refused, and so she eloped with a man who gave her syphilis. This disease and the primitive treatments of the time may have been the reason for her inability to hear herself accurately. She also injured her hand so she could no longer play the piano.

Jenkins left her husband and later entered into a relationship with a British actor named St. Clair Bayfield (played in the film by Hugh Grant). The great pleasure of her life was putting on elaborate concerts and tableaux, performing for her friends, who helped sustain the fiction that she was talented, despite her warped, off-key, singing. One description: “Her singing at its finest suggests the untrammeled swoop of some great bird.” As in the film, she finally did a concert at Carnegie Hall. In real life, it was attended by celebrities including Cole Porter, dancer and actress Marge Champion, composer Gian Carlo Menotti, actress Kitty Carlisle and opera star Lily Pons with her husband, conductor Andre Kostelanetz, who composed a song for Jenkins to sing that night. For the first time, critics were able to attend and their reviews were devastating. Two days later, she had a heart attack and a month later she died.

“Florence Foster Jenkins: A World of Her Own” is a documentary.

Earlier this year, “Marguerite,”a French film inspired by Jenkins was released in the US.

There have been at least five plays based on her life, including “Glorious.”

There is something endearingly captivating about the idea of someone so passionately devoted to her art, wealthy enough to make her dreams come true, and so fearless in performing. It’s the Dunning-Kruger effect in its most benign form. She’s gone, so we have the pleasure of laughing at her (perhaps a little smugly) without hurting her feelings. And now she’s being played by Meryl Streep! Somewhere in heaven, she is smiling and also singing just as beautifully as she always dreamed.

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The Real Story

Indie Movies Reach Older Audiences

Posted on July 10, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Summer is the season for sequels, superheroes, special effects, chases, and explosions, with some slob comedies and animated family films added to the mix. But The Guardian points out that while Hollywood has been ignoring older audiences, indie films have showcased more mature performers and more mature storylines. While Glenn Close was barely recognizable in a brief, highly CGI’d performance in the video-game inspired sword and sorcery film “Warcraft,” her contemporaries Susan Sarandon, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Sally Field, and Meryl Streep have had starring roles in first-rate independent films this year.

Faced with such few worthwhile options in the multiplex, older moviegoers have opted to flock to the arthouse theaters instead, making their presence known in a big way. Of the top 10 most profitable independent films to play in cinemas in 2016 so far, seven are aimed strictly at adults, many of them centered on characters age 60 and over.

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Independent Movies for Grown-Ups
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