Sunday, December 17, 2017
Things To Do

Review: 'Florence Foster Jenkins' lets Meryl Streep showboat

Like its titular, tone deaf heroine, Florence Foster Jenkins shouldn't entertain as much as it does. The movie is broadly written and performed, gliding past any issues that would distract from the spectacle this shaky chanteuse makes of herself.

Florence, as the movie's marketers scramble to explain, was a 20th century New York City heiress and patron of the arts, and all she wanted in return was to sing opera. The problem was that she couldn't, in any sense of the art. She did concerts, badly, and recordings worse.

Incredibly, she became a star.

Rather than explore Florence's insistence of talent where there's none, director Stephen Frears does everything possible to keep her mediocrity charming, even inspiring. Much of it works, especially three core performances feeling lifted from a 1940s musical set at that century's turn, selling old fashion to the rafters.

No surprise that one performance lifting the movie is Meryl Streep's as Florence, allowing one of our finest actors a chance to showboat. We know from Mamma Mia! and Ricki and the Flash that Streep sings beautifully, so faking Florence's shrill assaults upon eardrums is a new challenge for her, one she obviously relishes.

The other two performances are indeed surprising. Hugh Grant hasn't been allowed such range in years, playing Florence's supportive, suavely exploitative husband St. Clair Bayfield. St. Clair was inclined to bribe critics to write reviews that wouldn't embarrass his wife, yet kept a lover (Rebecca Ferguson) in a boho apartment. Grant's caddish charm melts at the right moments to reveal St. Clair's conflict of heart.

The shocker, however, is Simon Helberg's Cosme McMoon, a newly hired pianist whose ears introduce us to Florence's singing, and his reaction is priceless. But Cosme is more than a walking spit take; he becomes Florence's confidante, a protector she needs. Having never watched The Big Bang Theory, I wasn't familiar with Helberg but there's an eager beaverness to this performance that's exciting to discover.

These three characters are wonderful, so it's a shame that screenwriter Nicholas Martin doesn't provide slightly meatier material for the actors. What is behind Florence's delusion? Did she never question St. Clair's affair? Could she really be so naive to derisive listeners? And what besides a cornball speech from a floozy (Nina Arianda, doing Judy Holliday) made her so popular?

Good questions that don't interest Frears or Martin. There's too much exquisite period detail and costuming to attend, so many familiar bootstrap musical beats to hit. Florence Foster Jenkins is too much old-fashioned fun to saddle with ideas. Just sit back and let Meryl screech.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Comments
Trans-Siberian Orchestra honor founder Paul O’Neill in Tampa: ‘You live in all our hearts’

Trans-Siberian Orchestra honor founder Paul O’Neill in Tampa: ‘You live in all our hearts’

The grandiosity and bombast of a typical Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert was tinged with emotion during the band's two concerts Sunday in Tampa, the adopted home of late founder Paul O'Neill.With plenty of friends and family looking on at Amalie Are...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Broadway poised to go ‘Head Over Heels’ for Go-Go’s musical

Broadway poised to go ‘Head Over Heels’ for Go-Go’s musical

Which seems more unlikely: That the Go-Go's have a touring stage musical? That it's produced by Gwyneth Paltrow? Or that it will finally land on Broadway in the 2018-2019 season?Their lips are sealed no longer: All three of those are true. Variety re...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Billy Bragg kept it simple with ‘Levi Stubbs Tears’

Billy Bragg kept it simple with ‘Levi Stubbs Tears’

One last history lesson this week from columnist Kevin Wuench: Next week, English troubadour Billy Bragg turns 60 years old. While we pay tribute to Billy Bragg, he in turn will pay tribute to a great Motown singer with Levi Stubbs Tears.Billy Bragg ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Review: Liam Payne, Camila Cabello, Nick Jonas can’t save Tampa’s Jingle Ball from growing pains

Review: Liam Payne, Camila Cabello, Nick Jonas can’t save Tampa’s Jingle Ball from growing pains

Call it a growing year.Sure, the 93.3-FLZ Jingle Ball brought a few thrills; anything constructed with so many screaming teens in mind always does. All the twinkling wristbands and necklaces passed out among the nearly 10,000 fans at Amalie Arena gav...
Published: 12/17/17
Before Jingle Ball, Nick Jonas pops into Tampa Starbucks, buys coffee for fans

Before Jingle Ball, Nick Jonas pops into Tampa Starbucks, buys coffee for fans

The most exclusive pop concert in Tampa on Saturday wasn't the 93.3-FLZ Jingle Ball at Amalie Arena. Nor was it Zedd's after-party at the Ritz Ybor.No, the hottest spot in town was the Starbucks at the corner of Westshore and Kennedy, where Nick Jona...
Published: 12/17/17

Sunday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballWomen: Florida State at Texas12:30 p.m.FS1Women: Georgia Tech at Georgia1 p.m.SECStony Brook at Providence2:30 p.m.FS1North Carolina at Tennessee3 p.m.ESPNSavannah State at Baylor3 p.m.Fox SunWomen: USF at Florida International...
Published: 12/16/17
Review: Katy Perry brings cartoon pop to spectacular life at Tampa’s Amalie Arena

Review: Katy Perry brings cartoon pop to spectacular life at Tampa’s Amalie Arena

God bless Katy Perry.Bless her Cirque du Soleil-sized vision for her Witness: The Tour, which careened into Tampa's Amalie Arena like a phantasmagoric freakshow on Friday. Bless her 15-foot flamingo puppets, her shed-sized golden dice, her army of ey...
Published: 12/16/17
Festivus 2017: Send us your grievances

Festivus 2017: Send us your grievances

Here's your chance. Tell us what annoyed you in 2017, and we'll share it with our readers.
Published: 12/15/17
Updated: 12/16/17

Saturday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBoxingMiddleweights: Lemieux vs. Saunders9:30 p.m.HBOCollege basketballButler vs. PurduenoonFoxMiami at George WashingtonnoonCBSSNLouisville vs. MemphisnoonESPN2Detroit vs. MichigannoonESPNUNC-Greensboro at N.C. StatenoonFSFSeton Hall at Rutgers...
Published: 12/15/17
Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

When Brenda Terry was 16 and living in St. Louis, she was a hostess and food runner at a sports bar where female employees wore cute, little cheerleading skirts. One night, she said, a patron grabbed her crotch. She ran to her management team and the...
Published: 12/15/17