“Jenkins” hits the right notes

By Kay-Ann Henry
Miami Gardens, FL

Just in: Meryl Streep is an unbelievable actress. OK, that isn’t anything new. After all, she has been nominated for 19 Academy Awards. She is the solute, and her roles are solvents; she always blends together outstanding solutions. Her performance in “Florence Foster Jenkins” is no different.

Streep plays the title character, a wealthy American socialite who seems to have everything —except the one thing she really wants. Set in 1944, the movie tells the true story of a woman whose love for music drives her to a memorable —and completely awful—concert in Carnegie Hall. Streep’s performance is both hilarious and poignant. She successfully portrays someone who is grounded enough to function in society, but detached enough that she can’t recognize her lack of musical ability. 

Along for this bumpy, jubilant ride is her common-law husband, St. Clair Bayfield, played by Hugh Grant, who helps in her daily endeavors and arguably benefits from her wealth. At the start of the film, it is hard to tell whether they have a romantic relationship, as we see him tucking her into to bed and then leaving to spend the night with his mistress, Kathleen, played by Rebecca Ferguson. Sure is a nice way to show his undying love to his sugar mama.

While Streep was typically delightful, the story wouldn’t have been half as engaging and funny if it weren’t for Simon Helberg (of “Big Bang Theory” renown), in the role of Florence’s hired pianist, Cosme McMoon. His facial expressions during Florence’s bad singing were priceless. But his eventual devotion to his employer also added crucial depth to his role.

The film’s one glaring flaw is that it misses an opportunity to address difficult questions surrounding love and sex. Florence and St. Clair never had a sexual relationship because Florence contracted syphilis from her first husband when she was 18. In this way, the movie could have challenged us to think about the Western ideals of marriage and monogamy. Can a marriage still be successful if you don’t have sex with your partner? Can a relationship maintain a measure of love even if you’re seeing someone else? The film had the perfect context to take up these questions, but it never did. “Florence Foster Jenkins” was an entertaining movie, but not much more. Nevertheless, it still mostly hit the right notes.

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