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‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ By Stephen Frears Reviewed

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Stephen Frears’ new movie ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ will  be released on August 12th in the US, but the film was released in May in the UK and in June in most European countries. I had the chance to see a preview last night.

The film, inspired by true events, is about Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York socialite in 1944, patron of the arts and rich heiress, who decides one day to become an opera singer, in spite of having one of the most ridiculous voices in the world. Meryl Streep plays Florence with the same great talent than we are used to, managing to sound funny and wacky when she sings, whereas Meryl is actually a great singer in real life. Dying of syphilis, a disease she contracted at 18 on her wedding night, the very candid Florence is re-married to St Clair Bayfield (a sleazy but still loveable Hugh Grant) who lives in a separate apartment as they abstain of any sexual relationship because of Florence’s disease. He has a secret life with a girlfriend on the side (Rebecca Ferguson) without Florence knowing anything about it, despite the fact she pays his rent. The odd couple soon hires young pianist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg from The Big Bang Theory) to make her dream come true. Helberg is irresistible in this role that he plays with the same hilarious facial expression from the beginning till the end, he is in complete disbelief of what is happening to him (Florence is very generous with him), completely scared by the wild ride, but loving the opportunity and the money. When the poor guy and the delusional diva end up playing Carnegie hall in front of a large audience, he looks like a kid in front of a candy store, even though they had everyone laughing their heads off the whole time.

It’s a funny and entertaining movie, but it’s not a great movie by any means, the ridicule of the situation always comes from Florence’s ingenuous attitude and all the efforts done by Bayfield and then McMoon to preserve her from the outside world and keep her inside her private bubble. They more or less control the situation at the beginning and keep Florence a private embarrassment performing in front of a selected audience, but things get out of control when she makes the terrible decision to play Carnegie Hall in front of hundreds of U.S. army servicemen. She is a bit Molière’s ‘Bourgeois Gentilhomme’, a simple and kind woman, who is totally delusional about her talent, and doesn’t realize that her entourage is flattering her because of her money. Nobody tells her she is horrible and certainly not Bayfield (who buys all the papers with bad reviews to trash them) because he lives on her endless cash. However, their relationship is more complex that this, as he proves at many occasions he is not a pure sycophant and has affection for her. It takes good care of her so it is difficult to completely hate him for this reason.

It’s a movie about hypocrisy but not hypocrisy of the press – the journalist of the Post refuses the cash offered by Bayfield after Florence’s disastrous performance – and by a twisted way of the story, the only person telling the truth appears as the meanest one too. The movie is also a bit silly, and funny as many people were laughing out loud in the theater, it is a bit sad and very sentimental, as it is impossible not to feel affection and pity for the poor woman – and I am not only talking about the truly awful outfits she had to wear. She is an adorable and eccentric loser who dares to live her dream till the tragic end.

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