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Florence Foster Jenkins Film Review

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It’s been a while since I’ve nervously bought a cinema ticket for a film I was sure I would not enjoy. All I knew was that it starred Hugh Grant and that it was about a woman who thought she was a great opera singer but was in fact mostly tone deaf.

Neither of those factors made me think or hope that it would be an enjoyable couple of hours and yet I was happy to be proven wrong.

Florence Foster Jenkins, played by Meryl Streep, is the unbelievably true story of a woman who fulfilled her dreams of performing a sold-out show at Carnegie Hall despite no discernible musical talent. Set in the opulent world of 1940’s New York, this wealthy yet generous woman and her husband would go to incredible lengths to help Jenkins pursue her dreams of singing on stage.

Her complete delusion could easily have become tedious and frustrating but Streep managed to make her true passion and determination witty and endearing. On the surface it is a story about a wealthy woman with delusions of grandeur who forces people to endure her poor performances while paying people to pretend to enjoy it all. But more than that, it is a story about someone that believes that “music matters” with such conviction that she will risk her marriage, reputation and even her health to explore that passion.

Meryl Streep was predictably praiseworthy yet Hugh Grant was comparatively stiff and far less convincing. With each note Meryl conveyed Florence's true love and passion for music leaving Grant overshadowed in his attempts at portraying those same emotions. The two characters have an unusual but sweet marriage that also feeds into her life of fantasy and mirage. It is not until the layers of their relationship unfold and the truth is revealed that you realise how strong and compassionate Jenkins was throughout her life.

The surprising stand-out performance comes from Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory) who plays the hilariously camp pianist who gets caught up in the eccentricities of the grand cover-up and somehow steals the show. It is one of the most comedic and expressive performances from a relatively minor character who still carries the comedy and keeps the film lighthearted and warm.

You will spend the whole film questioning how true the story is and wondering if she really did sound like that in real life right up until the credits when you can hear the genuine recording of Jenkins’ performance at Carnegie Hall. It is one of the most requested recordings in their archives and her show supposedly sold out faster than the likes of Frank Sinatra so it is definitely somehow fiction.

Just when you thought you’d seen every type of film, you can end up watching a woman singing to a sold-out show with an audience that begin by laughing in her face and end up falling just as much in love with her as you will.

It might not seem like the premise to an enjoyable film but, trust me, it works.

4/5 stars

Elinore Court lived at Liberty House, one of Liberty Living's London Student Accommodation options – studying a masters degree in Magazine Journalism at City University.