Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, rated PG-13
–Review by Ashley Linne
As a vocalist since the age of 9, I am ashamed that I was totally unaware of the story of “Lady Florence!” This entertaining film is based on the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a once very talented, high society musician and heiress, who becomes famous for her terrible singing voice. Meryl Streep is hilarious in this role, and makes this character quite endearing when she would otherwise come across as an intolerable narcissist.
Hugh Grant plays Florence’s husband St. Clair Bayfield. Theirs is a complex relationship as the story unfolds. He has an undeniable, genuine love for her, and yet also seems to lead a bit of a double life—one that everyone is aware of except Florence. He goes to great lengths to groom Florence’s environment and to shield her from those who would mock or scorn her, and early in the film one wonders whether this was to her benefit or detriment.
Florence herself is quite a character of course. She fashions extravagant costumes for her mediocre performances, to which a carefully curated short-list of people is invited to attend. She seems to be your typical eye-roll-inducing diva for the first part of the movie, but then we learn the more humanizing parts of her story—that she contracted syphilis from her first husband, that she suffers from nerve damage due to the disease, and that the various treatments of that day included arsenic.
I came to empathize with Florence much more than I expected. She sings with such candid conviction and confidence. She cannot handle criticism well, but not in such a way that she gets angry about it. Rather, her naivete is quite childlike and she cannot endure the humiliation of being rejected. Whether the real Florence Foster Jenkins was as genuine as this movie portrays her or not, she can teach us all a thing or two with her famous statement, “People may say I couldn’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”
I think we probably all know a Florence and have one or two in our churches. Maybe she’s the tone-deaf singer who wants to help lead worship. Maybe he’s the deacon whose prayers to bless the potluck turn into mini sermons. So often these people are genuine in spirit, and it can be difficult to know quite how to best unleash them to serve in their passions while also maintaining their dignity. I would hope that our churches are full of people who would cheer for Florence if she were singing with joyful pureness of spirit, rather than mock her or lose patience with her. But I know this isn’t always the case. Add in the church culture pressure of performing with excellence, and it can be a recipe for disaster for these tender souls.
As church leaders, perhaps we need to see beyond the scorecards we’ve fabricated for ourselves and look to the heart and the intentions, and go the extra mile to protect those like Florence in our care. It will probably look different in any given situation and undoubtedly require a little extra time and creativity. But I think that is what Jesus would do. I think if Florence had been singing her heart out for Him, He would be her #1 fan.
You can watch Florence Foster Jenkins on Amazon Prime.