Florence Foster Jenkins is a delectable alternative to the noisy fare that fill multiplexes this time of year. It offers yet another plum role to the peerless Meryl Streep and juicy parts to Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg.

If the name of the title character doesn’t ring a bell, this slice of upper-crust New York cultural life in the 1940s will disarm and delight you. Even having seen the French import Marguerite earlier this year, which covers the same territory, and Judy Kaye’s one-woman show Souvenir a decade ago, I had no feeling of déjà vu watching this genteel and engaging time capsule.

Jenkins was a wealthy socialite who supported musical causes and loved to sing. Because of her generosity and kindness no one had the nerve to tell her that her voice was appalling, especially her protective husband. Grant’s witty and nuanced performance is one of the movie’s prime assets; he is never less than believable as a man who truly cares for his spouse even though he maintains an apartment (and a mistress) on the side.

Meryl Streep-Florence Foster Jenkins

(Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Helberg, best known as the costar of television’s Big Bang Theory, is equally good as the young, naïve musician who is hired as Madame Foster’s accompanist. His first reaction to her caterwaul is a fit of giggling, but in time he comes to care for her because she is so completely sincere.

One of director Stephen Frears’ greatest challenges is recreating the sights and sounds of 1940s Manhattan, despite having made most of his movie in the U.K. The savvy viewer must be willing to meet him halfway, which I was willing to do.

As for Meryl Streep, she has found yet another role that takes full advantage of her glorious gifts. She makes almost any movie worth seeing: fortunately, this one is more than a mere star vehicle. British TV veteran Nicholas Martin has crafted an amusing, intelligent screenplay that left me with a smile on my face. Florence Foster Jenkins is one of the highlights of the summer movie season.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024