For the first time in forever (maybe ever), Pi Wen and I recently caught a film on its opening night.
This was Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg. It's based on a true story, of a socialite with an awful singing voice who nonetheless performed at Carnegie Hall.
Jenkins's husband St. Clair Bayfield spares her from the knowledge of her terrible voice as an act of love. Esteemed vocal coaches say nothing to Jenkins because they want her money. Whether from greed or kindness, the end result is the same: Florence Foster Jenkins believes she can sing well even though she most definitely cannot.
Or at least this is the case in the film -- it is hard to believe that the real-life Jenkins was as clueless as her screen counterpart. Helberg plays her accompanist, Cosme McMoon.
Although Jenkins's case is extreme, and the film plays it as farce, there are genuine ethical dilemmas here. If a person is blissfully unaware of their lack of talent and causing no harm to themselves or others, why shatter their illusion? Or is this framing itself an illusion, as the lack of talent causes some discomfort in others at the very least? If you choose to tell someone that their talent is only in their head, do you do it gently and risk that the message will be lost? Or in a tear-off-the-bandaid fashion that leaves no doubt about the truth of the matter, but at the cost of hurt feelings?
In the film Jenkins does finally learn the harsh truth, from a caustic newspaper critic (a Hollywood trope if I ever did see one). In the end her husband could not her spare her. The review is so rough that one wishes he had let her down ever so gently (but not too gently) many years before.