Florence Foster Jenkins Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg. Directed by Stephen Frears. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
Florence Foster Jenkins features a famously brilliant actress playing a famously terrible singer, but it doesn’t serve either one particularly well. Meryl Streep plays the title character, an enormously wealthy 1940s New York City heiress and socialite, who was able to mount lavish private concerts despite her complete inability to sing. Later in her life, she became famous to the general public when recordings of her uncanny butchering of classical compositions made their way beyond society circles.
Jenkins’ life makes for a great Wikipedia entry, but Stephen Frears’ movie makes her the butt of a single repetitive joke, and then tries to pivot for sympathy with maudlin reveals about her troubled past. Streep gamely sings off-key and flits through society parties, and Hugh Grant is dashing as Florence’s devoted, enabling husband St. Clair Bayfield, himself a second-rate (but self-aware) stage actor. The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg, however, gives a bafflingly inconsistent performance as Cosme McMoon, the pianist and aspiring composer Jenkins hires to accompany her.
Jenkins is likable in a bland, sitcom-style way, but Streep doesn’t give her the kind of emotional depth that would justify making an entire feature film about her. Some of the period details are glamorous, although many of them look phony. Much like Jenkins herself, the movie is all false notes under its surface gaudiness.