My old friend Richard collects albums of bad singers. You go to his house, and he has a section of vocalists who are out of tune, out of sync, and recorded. Needless to say, he has prized possessions of the two albums that Florence Foster Jenkins (privately) recorded. I remember one of our favorite things to do then was to go to Tower Records in Lincoln Center and go through the jazz vocals section, judging discs by the covers and hoping against hope that one of these singers would be worthy enough to join his ‘awful singers’ shelf. I guess my point here is that although I am not an expert on her, I have heard a lot about La Florence from my friend, which made me more eager to see ‘Florence Foster Jenkins,’ which is the film about her.
It’s not exactly her life story, more a dramatization of the events leading up to her infamous Carnegie Hall concert. Meryl Streep plays her, in one of her larger than life performances, and she goes all out – tics, screams, arms flailing. I know she has been getting left and right raves here, but to me it rang false. From what I have heard about Jenkins, she was mostly quiet and subtle, if a lot cognizant of her deficiencies. Even though we get that on paper in the screenplay, I thought Streep played her in the opposite direction, though of course Streep is a intuitive enough actress that she knows when to to reign it in so the character isn’t a caricature. Hugh Grant, playing her companion, shows the subtlety here, and in my opinion gives the better performance even if his part is written just to react to Jenkins and her pianist Cosme Mcmoon (played with camp tendencies by Simon Helberg)
Over all, despite its oversize, Jenkins is still a small film,. It would be incorrect to call it inflated, but somehow that word also fits. Still, in this summer of frozen delight treats, this is satisfying sorbet, a tribute to anyone following her dreams as misguided some of those may be.