MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By BBC Films
Directed by Stephen Frears. Starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant.
First of all, let me say that there is nothing that is less than entertaining about Florence Foster Jenkins. The movie features a great cast having fun telling the story of a rich socialite, a patron of the arts, who loved music as well as sponsoring musical recitals featuring herself singing opera. There is much gentle humor, moments of warmth, and heartfelt performances by Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant as Florence Jenkins and her loving companion St. Clair Bayfield. It’s set in New York City in the 1940s, as war is taking place overseas. It has nostalgia, history, and music wrapped up in an attractive package. More people have recommended this film to me than any in recent history.
Well, then, what’s the problem with Florence Foster Jenkins and why didn’t I like it more?
It would have to be the message at the heart of the story: If you have a lot of money and the willingness to share it with your friends and acquaintances, they are only too glad to accommodate your whims and overlook your shortcomings.
Or as Jesus puts it: “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” (Luke 6:33-34 NRSV)
Jenkins has a very bad singing voice but a love of music. So she hires a vocal coach (David Haig) who is willing to say nice things in return for patronage. Bayfield then hires a pianist (Simon Helberg of The Big Bang Theory) who is told to say only nice things about her singing. And then, Jenkins has the idea that she’s always wanted to play Carnegie Hall.
In spite of the old joke that says that if you want to get to Carnegie Hall you need to practice, Florence Foster Jenkins reveals that all you really need to get there is the willingness to buy out the house with your own money.
There are some moments of sweetness in this film and a few moments of melancholy. There are also some corny and manipulative scenes, too.
All of the deception wore me down. Imagine a retelling of The Emperor’s New Clothes in which no one points out the nonexistence of his royal garb. Now imagine a world in which everyone can be bought for a price and truth is something that you set aside whenever it might hurt another’s feelings. That’s pretty much the worldview of this crowd-pleasing diversion.
There’s so much lying in our consumer culture from how products are sold to how political campaigns are won and lost. If Florence Foster Jenkins had a bit more of an edge to its storytelling, it probably would have something to say. This film is content to simply make us smile and laugh and then be ashamed of ourselves for laughing. That’s the textbook definition of a guilty pleasure. You’re welcome.
Three halos: Good performances and skillful direction make for an entertaining night at the movies.
Two pitchforks: Deception; bribery; implied infidelity.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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