‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ Wastes Great Leads in Inconsistent Schmaltz-Fest

Florence_Foster_Jenkins_(film)Welcome back to everyone’s favorite game, “Meryl Streep and the Golden Globe nomination.”

“Florence Foster Jenkins” stars Streep in the titular role as the infamous 1940s New York City socialite who, despite her painful lack of any talent, wishes to sign at Carnegie Hall. Hugh Grant plays her husband and Simon Helberg her pianist as Stephen Frears directs.

Last August, Streep had a film no one remembers called “Ricki and the Flash” and after seeing it I swore she was going to get a Golden Globe nomination (that role screamed Hollywood Foreign Press). She did not, but she has a pretty good chance to chalk up a Comedy/Musical nom with “Jenkins” (can I call it FFL?), as biopics about underdog characters will always get votes.

The trailer for this film makes it out to look exactly like what it actually is, and if you saw it and thought, “that looks like innocent, schmaltzy, feel-good fun” then you’ll probably get your money’s worth out of it. However for me it just felt too inconsistent and repetitive, despite fantastic work from its two lead stars.

I won’t waste much ink on Meryl Streep, by now you know she’s good and can carry any film in any genre. She again turns in an expected fine performance, giving us some laughs at Florence’s inability to sing (and failure to recognize said inability) as well as a few emotional moments, often conveying both emotions with simply her eyes and a smile.

The real scene stealer, and arguably the film’s main character despite the title and presence of Streep, is Hugh Grant. Playing Jenkins’ husband/manager, Grant has his normal British gentleman way about him, and he is so darn charming and likable that even when he is a man having an affair you still root for him (it’s revealed in first five minutes, I’m not spoiling anything). Simon Helberg is either miscast or just given an awkward real-life person to portray, as his Cosmé McMoon is soft spoken to an almost uncomfortable fault.

The film unfortunately never finds its proper footing. There aren’t enough laughs to carry it as a comedy or enough emotional scenes to work as a drama. It just kind of rinses and repeats itself: Florence sings, some people laugh and Hugh Grant runs around trying to fix things. It’s this way for 110 minutes and the tonal inconsistencies make some parts of the film drag as director Frears stumbles around trying to get us to Florence’s next embarrassment.

I can’t recommend seeing “Florence Foster Jenkins,” at least not in a theater, but it is innocent enough schmaltz. The performances of Grant and Streep deserve better, and unfortunately this just wasn’t able to deliver. All that being said, if all you want this August is a nice period piece with likable performances and a fun score… go see “Café Society.”

Critics Rating: 4/10


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