"She can tend to be a bit flat... from time to time."
Florence Foster Jenkins tells the story of an aging New York heiress and her passion for music. After a medical condition caused her to give up on her musical dreams at a young age Florence, in her twilight years, vows to take to the stage of Carnegie Hall to sing for a sold out crowd despite the fact that she has a terrible singing voice.
Heart is the key to this film, without it there is no point and director Stephen Frears does his best to deliver it. Using every tool at his disposal he manages to create an aesthetic reminiscent of old-timey Hollywood classics (think early Wilder with a hint of Sturges), which helps to lend credence to the time period he’s presenting. However, aesthetics aren’t the key to engaging in this films quirky narrative and as such it falls somewhat flat. Fumbling with the tone of the piece Frears can’t seem to make his mind up whether or not he is making a comedy or a drama. While tonal shifts have worked well for him in the past (his 2013 film “Philomena” being a perfect example of this working brilliantly) here he doesn’t seem to have a handle on what he is trying to convey and as such it leaves you wondering how you’re supposed to feel. You’re never quite sure if the characters are indulging Lady Florence for the sake of their own monetary gain or out of a genuine love for the crazy old dame making it extremely hard to get on anybody’s side or in some characters cases even understand or relate to them at all.
It goes without saying that Meryl Streep is superb in this film. Delivering yet another stellar performance she captures both an innocence and joy in Lady Florence that does manage to maintain the audiences gaze and slightly tug at their heart strings in the films softer moments. As her gentleman husband Hugh Grant delivers a fine performance, doing his best with a muddled narrative that never quite makes his motivations clear. It would have been nice to see Grant sink his teeth into the role with a more realized sense of who he is or what he is doing but as it stands his charm and talent guide him through what could have otherwise been a thankless role.
While the film does have some severe problems with its tone it’s still a fairly enjoyable experience, due in large part to Streep’s wonderful performance and the charisma she imbues Lady Florence with. If you’re willing to forgive the film’s somewhat confusing messages and motivations and engage with a simple story of an old lady wanting to live out her lifelong dream you’re sure to have a fun night out at the movies, but if you’re looking for something a little bit deeper that’s fun and still manages to resonates with you see if “Philomena” is on Netflix and give that a go instead.
6 our of 10.
Reviewed by Chris Swan