Based on a true story, Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) was a headstrong child-prodigy on piano from a wealthy Pennsylvanian family, who was cut off from their money as a young lady due to her wanting to pursue music rather than something more professional.
It didn’t help that she also married a man 16 years her senior essentially to spite her father who had refused to support her musical education. This marriage of rebellion was unwise as it was brief, although it had lasting effects due to her contracting syphilis from her husband before he died. The disease ruined the nerves in her hands, forcing her to give up playing the piano in favor of making a modest living teaching it instead.
Eventually her father died, resulting in an unexpected inheritance that gave her the resources to pursue her musical education. She also remarried (sort-of) a successful (sort-of) actor from London named St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). Bayfield entertained her every whim, possibly out of love, possibly out of loyalty, possibly from a desire for the good life, or a combination of all three.
Nevertheless, his unyielding support combined with her own tenacity, love of music, and newfound social influence, propelled her from secretive voice lessons in her parlor to a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall in 1944
In and of itself, that would make for a great riches-to-rags-to-riches story, but one aspect diverts this drama into comedic territory: Florence Foster Jenkins really couldn’t sing worth a damn, as evidenced by her many vocal lessons and challenges and how they impact the dreams of up-and-coming pianist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg of Big Bang Theory), who has been charged with happily accompanying her no matter how questionable her talent.
The finale to such a ready-for-Lifetime movie is never really in doubt, but the cast elevates the material above expectations. Streep is more than dependable, throwing herself into both the vocal characterizations of the actual Foster Jenkins and her flamboyant bluster.
Streep does her own singing (such as it is for most of the film), whilst Helberg does his own piano playing, all while more than holding his own opposite her. Meanwhile, somewhat-retired Grant decided to take the role mainly to act opposite Streep, and her presence obviously brings out the best in both him, since Bayfield may be his best role since Edward Ferrars in “Sense and Sensibility” back in 1995.
Florence Foster Jenkins
Rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material.
Director: Stephen Frears
Writer: Nicholas Martin