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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was a poem about joy and gifts, so I thought of the selflessness offered to the title character of this biopic.)

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A dream is a gift on the highest of shelves,
And no one is tall enough for it.
We wonder what treasures are hidden within,
And watch other people reach theirs with chagrin.
We reach and we climb
And we strain every time;
We yearn and beseech
While it’s just out of reach.
This struggle, we hate and adore it.

But after the struggle has worn us bone thin
And made us give up on the treasures within,
For someone still taller to pluck our dream down,
Impelled by our dreaming and not for renown,
And offer it to us,
The dream that so drew us…
It questions the thought
That the world is all rot,
For kindness still lives
In the gifts that it gives.

MPAA rating: PG-13

I didn’t realize that I’d be highlighting Meryl Streep’s lesser performances this week (Into the Woods was just a couple days ago), but it just worked out that way. I’ve long held Florence Foster Jenkins in semi-contempt ever since Streep got an Oscar nomination while Amy Adams in Arrival was snubbed. Yet I was curious to see whether her portrayal of the aspiring untalented opera singer was really undeserving or not.

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While I believe without a doubt that Streep’s Academy clout clinched the nomination, her role as Jenkins does have its strong moments, particularly when it shifts from milking her bad singing for comedy to mixing in the drama of her failing health and self-confidence. I suppose knowing from Into the Woods and Mamma Mia! that Streep can sing adds to the role’s difficulty; it takes skill to sing poorly on purpose. I can see Streep’s performance being worthy of an Oscar nom in a weak year, but I’ll take it to my grave that Amy Adams deserved it more in 2016.

Nearly overshadowing Streep is Hugh Grant as her husband/manager St. Clair Bayfield, who repeatedly swings the audience’s opinion of him; at first, he seems a faithful husband, then a cad when we realize he has a mistress, then somewhat sympathetic when the circumstances are clarified, then back to amazingly sweet and selfless husband by the end. Likewise, Simon Helberg as Cosmé McMoon, Jenkins’ self-conscious pianist, serves well as a stand-in for the audience, shocked by Jenkins’ naivete about her lack of talent but hesitantly supportive of her efforts.

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Florence Foster Jenkins is a well-written biopic I doubt anyone was clamoring for, but it’s better than its title character’s voice might indicate. While it extracts inspiration from Jenkins and her eagerness to share her passion and fulfill her dream whether the listening world likes it or not, it didn’t quite convince me whether that was a good thing or not. When someone aspires to be legitimately famous, would they really be satisfied with becoming infamous instead?

Best line: (Carlo Edwards, a ‘friend’) “Obviously I’ll do my utmost to attend the concert, but I’ll be away in Florida at some point.”   (St. Clair) “Oh, right. When?”   (Edwards) “Let me know when you’ve fixed a date.”


Rank: List Runner-Up


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