Meryl Streep is off key and on point as ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ opens TIFF

by Tom Hanaway

STAFF WRITER

In her newest movie, “Florence Foster Jenkins,” Meryl Streep can barely carry a tune as she squeaks and squawks her way through classic opera music. But she wouldn’t necessarily consider that an insult.

The Academy Award-winning actress plays the titular role of Florence, a real heiress who cultivated New York’s music scene in the 1940s and harbored her own dreams of becoming a famous singer. The problem? Jenkins was objectively terrible and arguably delusional.

Streep said at a news conference at Roppongi Hills on Monday that she shares the same dream of singing that Jenkins did.

“I would still like to be a singer, but I’m not very good,” she said. “But I keep trying.”

The actress — who has won three Oscars and eight Golden Globes — has been enchanting audiences with her singing over the past decade with a string of musical roles, including “Mamma Mia!” (2008), “Into the Woods” (2014) and “Ricky and the Flash” (2015). But for “Jenkins,” Streep had to master the songs before ruining them.

“I got a very good, true opera coach and he taught me the arias correctly,” she said. “Then the last two weeks of the two-month preparation, we just screwed around with them.”

All of her practice has paid off as “Florence Foster Jenkins” was selected to be the opening movie of the Tokyo International Film Festival. Streep went on a one-woman promotional tour in Japan for the movie ahead of its Japan premiere on Tuesday.

“I’m very proud to be here representing the film,” she said. “I bring greetings from (director) Stephen Frears, (co-stars) Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg, all of whom are very busy working. But I’m currently unemployed, so I was available to come, and I’m very happy to be here.”

Frears’ previous films, “The Queen” (2006) and “Philomena” (2013), center around older women, and “Jenkins” is no different. The 67-year-old actress said that having a film about an elderly woman open such a huge festival — which received over 1,500 submissions this year — sends a real message.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a film in American film history that had as its leading person be a 70-year-old character,” Streep said.

She added that when it comes down to it, age simply doesn’t matter despite what Hollywood may believe.

“I think there has been ageism and a lot of so-called market-driven decisions,” Streep said, reflecting on her own career. “But I was 58 when I made ‘Mama Mia!,’ and that was the most popular film I ever made. I think all these rules are being broken and thank goodness.”