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Florence Foster Jenkins
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Florence Foster Jenkins is a period dramedy based on the true life of the titular character (played by Meryl Streep), a New York socialite and patron of the arts in the first half of the 20th century. There's a bit of strong language ("ass," "bulls--t," "s--t," "a--hole") and some passionate kisses, as well as a glimpse of a couple naked in bed (the sheet covers all of their sensitive areas) and a few suggestive jokes. Married characters have an open relationship that includes a girlfriend for the husband. Fans of more mature comedies will definitely be amused by Streep's hilariously delusional character, who has no clue how terrible a singer she is. But her husband's loyalty to her and other characters' determination to support her help keep things from getting mean-spirited. And while Jenkins' "success" is helped significantly by the many resources she has available to her, an upbeat take on the movie's message is that if you love something wholeheartedly, you shouldn't stop trying to do it, even if you're not the best at it.
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What's the story?
Based on a true story, FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS is set in 1944 New York City. Title character Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) is a wealthy patron of the arts who founded a music-centered social club with her husband, St. Clair "Whitey" Bayfield (Hugh Grant). Interested in taking voice lessons again, Florence -- who suffers from a chronic illness -- and Whitey hire young pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) as her accompanist to work with a renowned voice tutor. But as Cosme discovers on the first day of lessons, while Florence may know a lot about music, she can barely carry a tune. Not that she seems to know that, since Whitey ensures that all of her intimate recitals are for a handpicked audience of supportive friends and paid-off music writers. But when Florence insists on recording an album and booking Carnegie Hall for a public concert, nothing Whitey can do will keep unsympathetic music critics and audiences from attending.
Is it any good?
Streep's heartwarming, hilarious performance as a music lover oblivious to her own awful singing voice makes this biopic a surprisingly poignant look at one woman's delusional delight. Florence Foster Jenkins wouldn't be anywhere near as effective if audiences didn't know that Streep definitely can sing, whether she's belting out Broadway numbers or performing a folk ballad. The comedy also wouldn't work if it wasn't set in the '40s, since today such a vanity project would be instantly trashed and mocked via social media. But thanks to Streep's commitment to the role, Jenkins is a sweetly tragicomic figure whose dream to sing for an audience won't be denied.
Supporting Streep/Jenkins are Grant and Helberg. Grant's Whitey may have a girlfriend on the side, but he genuinely shares a "love of the spirit" with Jenkins ... as well as a more traditional physical and romantic love with said girlfriend, a downtown bohemian named Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson). But Whitey's devotion to Florence is unquestionable and not a cad's con, as you might assume. The Big Bang Theory's Helberg is endearing as Florence's pianist, a role he plays mostly with his eyes -- wide in bemused horror -- and knowing smile. While the topic and setting may not be a shoo-in for younger audiences, you can always leave the kids at home and take the grandparents out to appreciate this crowd-pleasing comedy about a woman whose love of music was so deep she was self-deceptively sure of her own talent.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of biographical dramas like Florence Foster Jenkins. Do movies about little-known historical figures make you interested in learning more about them?
How does Florence's situation in life (her wealth, her support system) affect her ability to pursue her dream? What would have happened to someone without those resources? Does that send a message?
What do you think about Florence? Is she egotistical and delusional (as one music critic suggests), or is she simply such a lover of music that she can't hear what she sounds like?
Talk about the idea that there are different kinds of love. Do you agree? How does that play out in the movie?
- In theaters: August 12, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: December 13, 2016
- Cast: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg
- Director: Stephen Frears
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief suggestive material
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