The year is 1944, and the wealthy heiress Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) is the doyen of the New York classic musical scene, hosting concerts and spending money like water. She’s also an awful, awful singer, a fact carefully hidden from her by a bevvy of sycophants marshalled by her (at first) mooching and unfaithful husband, washed-up British actor St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). Piano player and new-comer to her circle Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg) is uneasy about all this, and his unease grows when – despite Bayfield’s efforts – Jenkins decides to perform in public.
Director Stephen Frears (The Queen) doesn’t take any of this too seriously, but neither does he go all-out for laughs. In telling this true story he downplays the obvious comedy angles (most notably Bayfield’s ever-escalating attempts to keep Jenkins’ “gift” under wraps) to treat Jenkins with compassion, though her terrible voice remains hilarious. Streep is solid in an undemanding role, though even she seems to be having fun with Jenkins terrible singing. It’s Grant who is the star here, showing real warmth and anguish as his slick facade fades to reveal a man deceiving the woman he loves. There’s a touching love story buried under all this; Frears just never quite lets it shine.
Reviewed by Anthony Morris