A family friend when I was a child often said, “Well, bless her heart,” whenever someone did something well-meaning or wholeheartedly.
Meryl Streep discussing Florence Foster Jenkins, whom she portrays in the new film of the same name, says that people at the time had one of two reactions to hearing Florence sing, either “bless her” or laughter.
Both of these are shown in the film.
Florence was a piano prodigy as a child, who lost her ability to play due to a physical condition. She continued to love music and, in adulthood. became an important musical philanthropist in New York City.
Florence liked to sing with heart and emotion. What she didn’t realize was that her physical malady had adversely affected both her ability to sing on pitch and her recognition that she was not singing on pitch. In order not to hurt her, her husband and her friends protected her from finding out the truth.
I love Meryl Streep’s work. She always brings depth into her portrayals as she does here. As a singer myself, although a choral soprano rather than a coloratura who can toss off the “Queen of the Night” aria at the drop of a hat, I was amazed at Streep’s ability to sing as Florence did – almost, but not quite up to the pitch.
On Fandango, the movie is listed as both a comedy and a drama. While there are moments of laughter, I can’t think of the film as a comedy. I think it is better characterized as a reflection on the power of music, service, friendship, and love in the face of adversity.
Florence, bless your heart. Meryl, thank you for bringing this powerful story to us.