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Florence Foster Jenkins

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Nominated for Best Actress (Meryl Streep) at the 89th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Costume Design at the 89th Annual Academy Awards

To borrow from a piece I once did on Tom Cruise: I love Meryl Streep. I hate Meryl Streep. Oh, this has absolutely nothing to do with national politics, or awards show speeches. I support Ms. Streep being able to use her acceptance time any way she deems fit. But it does have something to do with Hollywood politics, and the feeling that at this stage of her storied career, Meryl gets nominations just for showing up. “Sophie’s Choice” Streep? “Silkwood” Streep? “Ironweed” Streep? Those days are long gone. Now it’s all dowdy, eccentric spinsters, and sickly, prickly grandmas. I’ll happily make a case for her not deserving any of her last five Oscar nominations. And I adore her.

Florence Foster Jenkins (Streep fine…but on auto-pilot) is a rich Manhattan socialite with a passion for the arts. It’s 1944, and she’s married to a handsome, younger, failed Shakespearean actor named St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant, actually quite fine). Bayfield also acts as her manager, and keeps a separate residence. And despite having a mistress named Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson…okay), Bayfield also exhibits a deep commitment to his wife. Suffering from long-term syphilis, which she contracted from her first husband, Florence is on multiple medications and in failing health. Also…Florence loves to sing opera. But she’s horrible at it. However, after years of lessons and consistent placating, arrangements are made for Ms. Jenkins to perform at Carnegie Hall. A skeptical press and public await.

“Florence Foster Jenkins” contains Meryl Streep’s record 20th Academy Award acting nomination. For some perspective, Jack Nicholson leads the men with twelve. Streep isn’t bad in this meant to be heart-warming “true” story of the world’s worst opera singer. It’s just that it’s paint-by-numbers stuff, that Meryl can pull off in her sleep. Streep has cornered the market recently on recognition for being broad and flamboyant. Amy Adams and Annette Bening, on the other hand, turned in ignored work that was much more subtle and complex. It’s a highly theatrical film, and I enjoyed that aspect. Plus, there’s wonderful support work from Simon Helberg and Nina Arianda. Director Stephen Frears though, once great (“The Grifters”, “Dangerous Liaisons”), is now stuck firmly in the land of the middlebrow. This movie offers no excitement or surprise. You’ve practically seen it all in the trailer.

Grade:  C+


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