A long-time fan of Meryl Streep, I looked forward to seeing the award-winning actress take on the role of society matron Florence Foster Jenkins. Having heard Ms. Streep sing beautifully in previous films—Postcards from the Edge, The Deer Hunter, Ricki and the Flash—I wondered if she could actually sound horrible.
I needn’t have worried.
Ms. Streep delivers the shrill trills and toneless howls with great joy and abandon, much to the chagrin of her accompanist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), who had hoped to use his new (well-paid) position to make a name in the New York music scene. While his initial reactions to Florence’s performances are comical, he gradually becomes one of her most loyal supporters.
And thanks to the persistent efforts of Florence’s second husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), an ever-growing circle of admirers and supporters flock to the aging chanteuse’s concerts. Grant delivers a stellar performance as the “kept” man who manages to support and shield Florence from mockery while having an affair with his bohemian girlfriend (Rebecca Ferguson). I particularly enjoyed his dance scene.
Director Stephen Frears wisely decided to keep the historical facts to a minimum. Through a series of short dialogues, we learn that young Miss Foster had been a childhood piano prodigy who once performed at the White House. A falling out with her wealthy father led to an elopement with a philandering first husband who gave her syphilis.
In spite of her health challenges and limited musical ability, Florence maintains a cheerful demeanor and displays remarkable self-confidence. An inspiration for all of us!