In the late eighties I used to spend time with a great friend who had the most amazing collection of CDs. She would buy them for a number of reasons: nostalgia, melody and of course, comedy. We would sit and drink wine, or vodka or something and talk while the music played. Good times.
Among the records was one I had never heard of previously or since – a woman doing the most awful job of singing, her voice popping out in a series of off-key noises that sounded as if she was trying to lower herself into a bath of water that was too hot.
That woman was Florence Foster Jenkins and so it was with interest that I saw the film of her life story had come out, starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. I had heard some warm reviews about it and so rented it the other weekend to see it for myself .
The story opens with Florence in performance as part of her support of music appreciation in New York Society. She is a nervous but fulsome woman brimming with enthusiasm and love for the musical arts. It is pretty much her full time passion and in this endeavor she is supported by Hugh Grant playing her husband, St Clair and possibly having the best time on screen that I have seen him enjoy in a long time.
A music lover she may be, but while she has enthusiasm and money in abundance, what she sadly lacks is the ability to sing. She is protected from this fact hough by those her surround her, in particular St Clare, who adores her even while he lives in a separate apartment with his girlfriend.
The reason for this unusual marriage set up and other biographical details of Florence’s life are neatly interwoven into the narrative as she recruits a pianist to accompany her – Comse McMoon, brilliantly played by Simon Helberg who actually plays the piano himself which allows the camera freedom to move around without having to worry about fingers on the wrong keys.
The well oiled protective machine that St Clair had build around his wife is threatened when she lands on the brilliant idea of appearing at Carnegie Hall in what will be her ultimate show, compete with untamed audience members and music reviewers in the press determined to make their judgements.
In the 80s, I may well have sniggered at Florence as she warbled out of my mate’s CD player, but this film – although a comedy – treats her a lot more kindly. Although Streep spares no detail of failing notes, we end up feeling as protective towards her as St Clair. The film rattles along and delivers laughs and drama. Recommended as a pleasant way to round off a weekend.