And so... Florence Foster Jenkins, the laughingstock of sopranos for most of a century, who has been rehabilitated into a figure admirable for living her dream. On one level she was. But on several others she was both a victim and a user. She parlayed her wealth into positions she could not have attained by talent or work alone. And she was ferociously used by sycophants who needed pieces of that wealth. St. Clair Bayfield may have had a fondness for her but she was his meal ticket.
The real FFJ was a figure of ridicule in the classical music world. The movie featuring Meryl Streep (who, having mastered every accent in the world has now tackled the "accent" of out-of-tune singing) paints her gently as a figure of amusement. And had she been an amateur who sang for pleasure and did a few songs at musicales all would have been in proportion. But she swanned about in the manner of a diva and delivered not one drop of the musical content which each diva is charged with purveying. She didn't serve the music. I guess this is the sticking point for me. Whether consciously or not she guyed the music and proved how worthless it was to those who placed no value on it. I do not laugh at her singing -- it makes me feel sad. I stand in awe of the way La Streep has managed to almost perfectly reproduce the tinny whistle of FFJ's upper range, though she doesn't not venture nearly as far from rhythm as FFJ was also wont to do. Streep also makes bravura moments of simple acts like falling asleep. As a performer she is utterly admirable -- and the total mastery of acting that she displays completely undercuts the unmastery that she is portraying!
Hugh Grant is his usual charming self.
Simon Helberg is simply astonishing. Like Harpo Marx but with a speaking voice added. His plastic face and his verbal reactions are priceless. He is really the only character who has an arc in this movie, from total disbelief to fear of career suicide by association to human connection and support even though he knows he is forever linked to a living joke. And he does his own piano playing!
Historical drama depends on a contract with the audience -- the made up story must be balanced with well-researched and realistic background details. I saw another review which mentioned that the automobiles were too modern by a few years! That I didn't notice, but what set me off bigtime was... Arturo Toscanini. The casting, costume and makeup departments got him reasonably right. BUT. FFJ fixates on Lily Pons (who was not a new young singer by then but I would have let that pass. I would even have forgiven the very un-French timbre of the excellent young soprano impersonating La Pons) and holds up a 78 of a Pons and Toscanini recording of the Bell Song. On Columbia Records! Toscanini was an RCA Victor exclusive artist. It would have taken so little to get that right. And I sincerely doubt the great maestro did his own money begging for the NBC Orchestra...He had minions for that!
The fake voice lesson with Carlo Edwards also bugged me. It was a caricature of what I do. FFJ lurched around. Edwards exhorted her without actually stopping her to fix anything (and yes, I know that the point is that she was unteachable and he was ripping her off). It just seemed so sad to me, not funny.
The most realistic scene in the movie was the bit with all the pianists bitching in the waiting room while McMoon plays The Swan inside. I have been in waiting rooms like that!
Music is a holy art, sings the Composer in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos. It doesn't all have to be serious. There have been wonderful comic takes on classical music: Victor Borge, PDQ Bach, the Hoffnung Festival, and so on. But the "humor" in FFJ was based on cruelty ("we're laughing at you"), which the movie tries without real success to transform into some kind of "we're laughing with you." Indeed the movie sets us up to laugh and then tries to convince us that we are wrong to laugh, a muddled message. Poor FFJ lived most of her life within a bubble of rich clubwomen, an audience she knew and understood, and with whom her money and status created a codependent relationship. Know your audience is one of the great rules of performance. When she ventured out into the wider world, making recordings and then a public concert, her bubble burst. Not an uplifting story, really.
If Professor Harold Hill had shown up with his own band and charged for tickets to hear them play Beethoven using the think system... well, there would have been refunds!