Florence Foster Jenkins is based on a true story of a woman with no talent for singing who books Carnegie Hall to perform for mainly soldiers during World War II.
Is it an act of patriotism? Delusion of grandeur? Sheer foolishness? Pathetic buffoonery?
It is hard to maintain sympathy for the characters when it is clear someone should have told the luckless singer she was off key from the get go. But the plot of the story centers on her common law husband whose main goal in life is to keep her happy and unaware of her failure as a singer. Along the way there are amusing scenes, including the hiring of the accompanist, a pianist named McMoon played by Helberg, who can’t believe first, that he is making so much money just to accompany someone as she trains, and second that the singer who is being tutored is flat and beyond that sort of bizarre. And then there are the revelations about her marriage.
The actors all do a fine job with the material. Stephen Frears is his usual humane self, capturing a complex situation and making us feel the way the characters do. Meryl Streep performs hideously, that is, perfectly, as this terribly flawed singer with a big ambition, or big dreams, or just deep pockets allowing her to do pretty much what she wants. Her inheritance pays for the hiring of the hall, the private tutoring, and her husband’s largesse comes presumably from her bank account. It is a relief at the closing credits, perhaps in a fantasy of what Frances wanted to sound like, when Meryl Streep actually sings on key. She is a pretty good singer, so part of the fascination of watching the movie, is seeing how she pulls off what is essentially an acting stunt.
Hugh Grant on the other hand, gets the juicier role. He is truly magnanimous and does not appear false in any way. Gone are his romantic comedy manners of stuttering and looking bashfully charming. As Foster’s partner, he is the power behind the scenes, pulling together a team, protecting his wife from the bad stuff that can happen, until the very end, when a New York Post reporter gets into the hall, and reports the truth.
Even though I felt torn about how to take such a strange story, I was more curious about the influence of all of her money on everyone she surrounded herself with. But the movie is not about that. It is about a woman who started out small, and let herself get big enough to sing in Carnegie Hall.