“Florence Foster Jenkins”
Directed by Stephen Frears
In the early eighties, there was a plethora of films…light films which tried to be more than that…about the creative mind in New York. The best examples of these being “Author, Author” and “Reuben, Reuben”. They were “Nora Ephron” films before there were Nora Ephron films. They don’t hold up particularly well, mostly because they are written for, about, and by a VERY NYC-centric animal, the wealthy artist ensconced in the highest artistic culture of New York. Which makes them not particularly easy for the mainstream movie-goer to connect with them. And while “Florence Foster Jenkins” isn’t NEARLY as successful or enjoyable as these films, it fits right in line with the dated feeling of their styles…down to the ridiculously hackneyed Alexandre Desplat soundtrack, which sounds like it was ripped directly from “What’s Up, Doc”.
The difference, however, lies in our connection to the main characters. Conti’s Reuben and Pacino’s Travalian, have the advantage of scripts written by Julius J. Epstein (“Casablanca”) and Israel Horovitz (The Indian Wants the Bronx), respectively. Meryl Streep (who is hilarious and heartbreaking in teeny doses) and Hugh Grant don’t have that luxury. While they try like hell, they are at the mercy of Nicholas Martin’s dreadful script. Known more for his terrific British cop shows (“Midsomer Murders” and “Dalziel and Pascoe”), Martin has crafted a thoroughly paint-by-numbers, yet somehow confusing (drama? comedy?) story, which given the Herculean task of making idle rich people sympathetic, is a disaster for the film.This is a problem not just for our two leads, but for the secondary characters, as well. Nina Arianda’s Agnes Stark is utterly wasted in the film, and Simon Helberg’s Cosme fairs not much better. These TV stars trying to get in to the film world, deserved better from the script and Frears.
Speaking of Frears, not quite sure what his point of view for the film was. Is it an historical artifact (which would’ve been great), a fish-out-of-water comedy (not as much), or a bizarre RomCom (even worse). Alas, it is all three and if he truly wanted to honor the real eponymous person, then go for the drama and not the easy laugh. As a result, the person who comes out the worst, when all is said and done, is the actual Florence Foster Jenkins.
Precious, not as funny as the creators think, and incredibly saccharin, “Jenkins” can easily be skipped. But, since I brought it up…give “Reuben, Reuben” and “Author! Author!” a watch. In retrospect, I always liked those films.
Written on 12/11/16