PG-13. Hugh Grant is having an affair...kind of? I don't know. The confusion deserves the "13" attachment alone.
DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears
Yup. The High Fidelity guy directed this one. I was shocked too. High Fidelity is great. It'll probably always be one of my favorite movies. I guess that they can't all be High Fidelity. I suppose that's a little unfair. It is Oscar nominated for Best Actress, but I think I need to expound on it first. There has to be a sense of irony behind this nomination. I can't unsee it and I might lose some friends over this one. If you aren't up on this movie, the basic premise that Meryl Streep's title character lives a life of ignorance as those around her continue to upkeep her delusion that she is the most amazing singer in all of New York. But not only is she not the best; she might be the worst singer to ever appear publicly. The irony that I'm talking about is that this movie isn't very good. Meryl Streep, whom I will acknowledge is a pretty solid actress, keeps getting nominated for the Oscar. This almost feels like it is a running gag that has been going on for far too long. Now, Streep is getting nominated for a movie that wasn't that good.
Before you refuse to read this review any more than I thought previously possible, I have to state that she does an adequate job. But the role isn't that meaty. I honestly could think that any rookie actor could take this role and give the same performance. Yes, Steep can cry on command. But what emotional connection do I have to that? Lots of people can cry. Streep may have gotten the most water out of a stone, but there are other performances that are authentically impressive. Why do we have to keep nominating Streep? Is it a marketing thing? Are the Academy Awards pulling Streepers? (Streepettes? Streepadelphians? I refuse to equate "Streep" with "Strip", so go peddle your filth elsewhere.) She is a very talented actress, but doesn't it diminish the objectively great stuff by nominating her for this one trick pony role? So I do find it ironic that we are convincing Meryl Streep that she is Oscar worthy with everything that she does when she can occasionally act in a pretty boring role.
The movie as a whole is a bit of a mess. I was discussing this movie with one of my friends who kind of liked it. His argument was that it was based on a true story, so the movie deserves to get made. The problem is that there is little journey for the characters to go on. The characters live in Foster Jenkins's world from the beginning. That "playing along" aspect permeates every moment of the film and the story only fights to keep the charade up as long as possible. Foster Jenkins speaks throughout about her love for art, but the movie is mostly about how participation awards should be celebrated and that we should lie to our loved ones. There is potential for making this a movie about complete devotion and how we want the best for those around us, but the constant lying and upkeep of this world makes the few moments of love seem somewhat shallow. I do believe that Hugh Grant's Bayfield did care for Foster Jenkins quite a bit, but in the same way a teenager has to be respectful in front of Grandma. He never wants to hurt her, but he's also not going to ever be honest with her if he can help it. I actually would love to have seen a movie about St. Clair Bayfield rather than Florence Foster Jenkins. That guy had things to to work through. That's the tale of man who is never happy with his limited success. He lives a life of conflict avoidance, partially because Foster Jenkins cannot handle the strain with her weak condition. What does that do to someone? I think back to my review of Fences and Denzel's speech about just deserving to be happy and stress free. They both see themselves as entitled to that happiness, but Fences at least does the common courtesy to show the dark side of such behavior. I feel like Florence Foster Jenkins asks us to applaud Bayfield, but he is just worthy of scorn.
If you have met me IRL (I'm hip for 2002!), you'd know my absolute disdain for The Big Bang Theory. The weird part is that I want to like the actors from that show in other media. Simon Helberg wins points for me in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, but I haven't seen him in that many other things. This performance lacks nuance, but the movie never really calls for nuance. How can I gauge his choices when the tone of the film just throws caution to the wind? Honestly, the tone of the movie would have made a great TV movie for BBC America. We'd probably be having a very different conversation about his performance or my like of the movie as a whole had this been on TV. I mean, BBC Films made the movie and it kind of looks like they did. Even down to the very easy font from the beginning and the lackadaisical opening credits, it feels like the director is just saying "Let's get this movie over and done with."
There is a charm somewhere in this movie, but I don't think it stands as a piece of great cinema. Perhaps this review is more of a criticism on the Academy for responding so quickly to Oscar bait. This movie is the fish tale of pics. People swear it's "this big", but we're dealing with a guppy of a movie.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.