And you thought Justin Beiber was bad… Witness the inspiring true tale of history’s worst singer. As it so happens, talent was never really a prerequisite to crack the music industry!
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Florence Foster Jenkins is the preposterous true story of a New York socialite who dreamed of charming the world with opera singing – despite the significant setback of being the “world’s worst singer”. As the Second World War rages on, Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) lives a life of glamour, performing for friends and seeking record deals with the aid of her devoted husband and manager St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). Secretly, the wealthy St Clair pays off critics and audiences to applaud Florence regardless of her appalling singing, knowing that she would be unable to handle hearing the truth about her talents.
Barely stopping for breath between biopics, director Stephen Frears this time drops quite a different beast to his Lance Armstrong exposé mere months ago. Though their catalyst remains the same – ongoing lies and skewered visions of fame and glory through an extremely suppressed truth – FFJ is about as far removed in tone from the sombre, heavy gloom of The Program as possible. Amazingly, a lighter, comedic take works in enormous favour of the film, gifting it a brisk pace and rendering it a wholly enjoyable and, ultimately, more satisfying experience.
Being buoyant does not at all mean it’s lacking in substance or emotional power, however. But it does give its stars ample opportunity to run rampant with the ridiculousness of Foster Jenkins’ unwavering belief in her own singing power. It’s farcical, a portrait of ego and vanity gone bizarrely out of hand; and yet these characters are so wonderfully likable and admirably devoted to one another that it’s impossible to not believe any lesser measures could be taken.
As with any Frears film, it’s the performances that dominate proceedings. Naturally, you don’t need to be told that Meryl Streep is a knockout, though it feels like one of the few times we see a genuinely vulnerable, sympathetic side to the great actress; her range really does seem to have no limits. Hugh Grant makes a welcome return to the frontline with a complex and wonderfully selfless, yet still flawed character – it’s his best in years. Amazingly, Simon Helberg of The Big Bang Theory fame holds his own against these two heavyweights, and even steals the scene from them more than once as pianist Cosme McMoon. They’re a dynamic trio, absolutely oozing comedic chemistry.
Unlike its subject, the film very rarely hits a flat note. Frears and his excellent actors are all at the top of their game here, and while it may lack the bite some audiences require from their biopics, this is inspiringly pure entertainment worth singing about.
Florence Foster Jenkins is available in Australian cinemas from May 5 2016
Image courtesy of Entertainment One Films