Should someone have told her? That’s the question that has troubled me since watching Florence Foster Jenkins.
I cried from laughing; and I wept for the undercurrent of sadness as the movie teetered between tragedy and cruelty. Meryl Streep is brilliant. She is aptly supported by Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg. And in spite of the popularity of Foster Jenkins’ recordings of the day, should someone have told her that she was essentially tone deaf?
The movie struck closer to home for me than I would have ever imagined. I struggled in music school for seven years as an undergraduate – a piano performance major. Ultimately, after a stint as a public school music teacher and church musician, I went to seminary and studied for the ministry in the United Methodist Church. Did my college piano teacher recognize early on that I didn’t have what it takes? If she had told me, would I have believed her? What if I had been able – read “confident enough” – to recognize myself that I did not have the ability or drive or emotional fortitude to get me where I wanted to go as a musician, and been able to talk with her about it? What might she have said to me?
When, in the movie, Florence is lying on her death bed as a result of an episode brought on by her reading a critical review of her Carnegie Hall Concert, she makes the statement: They can say that I couldn’t sing; but they can’t say that I didn’t! That’s when the tragedy and cruelty overwhelmed me. She exited life the victor; but her story has less the ring of “victory” and more the sense of having come in dead last with the crowd having been paid off to stay and cheer you on.
The movie is worth going to if for no other reason than to hear Ms. Streep pull off the singing without the benefit of being tone deaf herself; but be prepared. There is a deep melancholy to this film that left me crying as I left the theater for all sorts of reasons. It gives me pause with regard to the things I want to do, and with regard to the things I tend to think that I do well. If you are honest, it might have the same impact on you.