I love Meryl Streep, she’s as wonderful on the screen today as she was 30 years ago. That being said, who doesn’t love Meryl Streep? Her charm is undeniable, which is what makes the past few years so difficult. She’s been in plenty of recent movies, but it’s been a long time since we’ve gotten a good one from her. Remember Ricki and the Flash? Probably not. Suffragette? The Giver? August: Osage County? Into The Woods? What makes it even more frustrating is that despite how bad some of these movies are, she’s still brilliant in them. Needless to say,when I saw the poster for this (which is all I had seen before walking into the theater) I was not looking forward to seeing it. It looked cheap and schmaltzy, which is something I’ve seen so many films do–even today. So, did this finally deliver the Streep film we’ve been waiting for? Or is it just another one you’ll forget? Let’s take a look at Florence Foster Jenkins.
Meryl Streep plays the titular role of Florence Foster Jenkins, an heiress who had dreams of becoming an opera singer. Issues arise when it turns out that she not only can’t sing, but may be one of the worst singers ever. As her popularity grows, her family and associates wonder how long they can keep this going, especially her husband St. Clair (Hugh Grant).
For anyone else who was fearing that this would be a dry, tacky experience – let me lay those worries to rest right now. This is easily the most whimsically fun movie in a long time, and dare I say that it’s Meryl Streep’s best movie in over 5 years. Director Stephen Frears (Oscar nominated director of The Queen and Philomena) truly knows how to sweep you up in the film’s world and characters, while still maintaining a constant sense of humor. I think that’s why this story never becomes dry, it’s constantly having fun. It’s not just chuckles either, this is a laugh-out-loud funny movie. The humor in this film seems a bit tame in comparison to the raunchy comedy we get nowadays, but the cast is able to sell you with each and every line. The comedic timing and delivery in this film are so on-point, it’s a marvel to witness all of the actors interact. It’s not even that the comedy is particularly clever, but the delivery and timing really go a long way.
Speaking of the actors, this is a film that gets a wonderful performance out of everybody. Meryl Streep gives her best performance in a long time, using her undeniable charm to bring Florence to life. Someone else who gives their best performance in years is Hugh Grant, playing Streep’s husband. He’s not doing his stuttering thing, nor is he playing that one-note Hugh Grant type. He’s really playing a character here and bringing him to life believably. If anything, although Streep plays the titular role, the film really focuses on Grant’s character as it’s lead. Not only does he carry it on his shoulders spectacularly, he never gets in the way of the incredible supporting cast. Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation‘s Rebecca Ferguson is great as Grant’s mistress, The Big Bang Theory‘s Simon Helberg even gives a decent performance here. I hate The Big Bang Theory, and I’m not really a fan of Helberg on the show, but I have to admit that he showed some promise here. I don’t think he’s great yet, he’s still playing it a bit too over-the-top at times, but he definitely shows that he can branch out and play more than just what we’ve seen of him so far.
Something that I love about this movie is that it’s a unique take on the underdog story. As I said, Florence is in the title but she isn’t quite the film’s main character. This isn’t to say she’s not in it, in fact I love seeing the underdog story where everyone knows she’s the underdog except for her. The film’s third act especially manages to surprisingly go to some smart, inspiring lengths. It does all of this without ever being schmaltzy, which isn’t easy to do.
There isn’t much to dislike about the film, but I will have to admit that the very simple nature of the story doesn’t quite support the near-two hour runtime. The simplicity in the story is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the simplicity helps with the light tone of it all, making for a fun experience. But on the other hand, there are plenty of moments of me sitting there saying to myself “Yeah, this is fun—but where is it going?”. If the film could’ve stayed in the 85-95 minute range, the simplicity could’ve worked better. But at almost two hours, the film finds itself meandering from time to time. The thing that helps is that it’s a film that’s simple, but it’s not completely pointless. It’s a story about devotion and doing things for the people you love and it tells that pretty admirably, it just seems to lose focus from time to time.
Florence Foster Jenkins is quirky, inspiring and hilarious. I see so many movies like this that lose their way in the middle and just hobble around until the 2-hour mark, but not this one. Even when it started to lose it’s way, it found it’s way back and became better than ever. I can only imagine how many people are looking at these trailers and shying away from it because it looks like something your grandma would want to go see. This may not be for everyone, but I couldn’t recommend it enough. I’ve been shocked by some of the movies that I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks, usually around this time we don’t get this many good films, but this definitely sits right up there with Imperium and Don’t Breathe as another one of this Fall’s biggest surprises.