From the worst soprano in history to a ski-jumper so terrible they had to change the rules the cinema gods love a trier. Will films about Eddie the Eagle and operatic catastrophe Florence Foster Jenkins finally give their subjects a triumph?
All of us are bad at something, and most of us are bad at many things. Life is filled with skills we dearly wish we had, but dont.
And then theres Florence Foster Jenkins. Born in 1868, Jenkins was a New York heiress whose wealth and Herculean self-belief allowed her to make herself into something else: an opera singer. By the 1940s, in her 70s, she was regaling the cream of Manhattan society with regular performances of Strauss and Mozart, appearing at grand venues in lavish costumes. The only snag was that Jenkins couldnt sing. Not couldnt sing in a sniffy, hairsplitting sense audible only to music critics, or when compared to the great sopranos. Jenkins couldnt sing in ways that still defy belief notes hit randomly and fleetingly, her voice hoarse and screechy, her phrasing verging on the avant garde. You might describe what she did as outsider art, if Carnegie Hall could be called outside. Either way, she could not sing. And yet, she sang.
Now, the unbreakable Jenkins is the heroine of a biopic directed by Stephen Frears. She is played, of course, by Meryl Streep. In fact, in the odd manner of these things, there are now two Florence Foster Jenkins movies. The other is called Marguerite, a lightly fictionalised account that renames and relocates her to 1920s France, but is the same tale of a socialite with a lack of vocal talent matched only by her need to air it, staging concerts in front of vetted crowds who applaud to drown out their laughter. The real Jenkins was too lost in music to register an opinion of the movies, but you assume she would have welcomed delighting us in stereo.