Disrespected and Played for a Fool: Streep’s Latest

 DATELINE: Florence Foster Jenkins

ffj Really and Truly

Florence Foster Jenkins (interpreted by Meryl Streep as a pixilated and dotty old lady) was actually a wealthy philanthropist with a love for music. In her youth Mrs. Jenkins sang at the White House, but in the 1940s she was humored and taken advantage of by famous and infamous friends, like Toscanini.

Alas, this film’s audience will likely see her the same way. The film’s marketing strategy plays the woman of limited singing ability as a comic figure of mockery. Streep plays her as an obtuse woman, blindly thinking she was as talented an opera singer as Lily Pons.

There is something disheartening when no one will treat her with dignity for fear they might lose her generosity. Her husband (Hugh Grant) was, in fact, an arranged companion whose job it was to shield her from the truth. His protection is her undoing.

You could say people killed her with kindness rather than confront her delusions. Florence, once puffed up, buys time at Carnegie Hall for her misguided solo performance. Out of her humanity, she gives thousands of tickets to wounded US soldiers to try to brighten their lives with her gift of music. In her grandeur she seemed confused to learn her singing off-key was considered a joke that she was never allowed to enjoy.

Sincere second-rate artists are easy targets for ridicule and contempt, but Streep’s depiction of a good heart takes the comedy out of the burlesque Florence’s audiences sneered at. There is too little kindness for those who try to live creative lives, but fall short of greatness.

Using opera for the masses as the vehicle, this movie surprises in its microcosmic tale about the integrity and hard work one untalented woman put into an art she loved. Florence Foster Jenkins had a tragic, but happy life.

Audiences who ridicule Florence Foster Jenkins do so at their own peril.

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