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2016 hasn’t even reached its halfway-point yet, but it already has at least one serious Oscar contender — and, not surprisingly, it’s 19-time nominee and three-time winner Meryl Streep.
In Streep’s latest tour-de-force performance, she plays the eponymous mid-20th century New York heiress and horrendous opera singer in Stephen Frears‘ dramedy Florence Foster Jenkins. The film was unveiled to — and cheered by — a crowd of New York tastemakers on Monday night at a special screening hosted by Paramount.
The screening was introduced by famed opera singer Renee Fleming and followed by a Q&A moderated by William Ivey Long, the chair of the American Theater Wing, during which Streep spoke about the fat suit that she had to wear to play the “zaftig” Jenkins, who reminded her of her own grandmother, and the voice lessons that she had to take to learn to sing — even badly.
Afterwards, at a reception held in the Weill Music Room high above Carnegie Hall — where Jenkins gave her most disastrous performance in 1944, and where Monday night’s attendees included Barbara Walters, Clive Davis, Tina Brown, Mira Nair, Diane Sawyer, Rufus Wainwright, Gay Talese, Christine Baranski and Carol Kane — “the O word” was spoken by more than a few. Streep confirmed to me that one of the reasons she chose to do this film, like last year’s Suffragette, is because, as she said at last September’s Telluride Film Festival, it’s important to her that stories of remarkable women of all sorts be told on the big screen.
Paramount acquired Florence Foster Jenkins, which also stars Hugh Grant (it’s nice to see him again) and The Big Bang Theory‘s Simon Helberg (who steals every scene he’s in), at last September’s Toronto International Film Festival, where promo footage of it was screened for buyers, and will release the pic nationwide on Aug. 12.
Like a number of other Streep vehicles that were released in the summer over the past decade — 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, 2008’s Mamma Mia!, 2009’s Julie & Julia, 2012’s Hope Springs, 2014’s The Giver and 2015’s Ricki and the Flash — this one may not prove to be everyone’s (read: critics’) cup of tea. But that’s undoubtedly okay with the studio if it grosses anywhere in the ballpark of the others, the least successful of which, Ricki, brought in $26.8 million, and which, on average, grossed $83 million domestically. Moreover, Streep received best actress noms for Devil and Julie — unlike some performances from early in the year, Oscar voters remember hers.
The closest parallel to Streep’s performance in Florence that I can think of — apart from that given by Catherine Frot in 2015’s acclaimed French film Marguerite, which was inspired by Jenkins’ story — may be Judy Holliday‘s in 1950’s Born Yesterday. Holliday also played an oblivious but cheerful woman who viewers can’t help but root for, and come Oscar-time, she was nominated against All About Eve‘s Bette Davis and Sunset Blvd.‘s Gloria Swanson, among others — and won.
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