Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins

Yes, this is a granny movie. But I have a soft spot for granny movies. Proceed with this review accordingly.

First of all, I'd like to point out the sub-classification of Meryl Streep movies that could be called "Lighter Streep for Older People", which have been rolling out in August for several years now: Julie & Julia in 2009, Hope Springs in 2012, Ricki and the Flash in 2015, and now Florence Foster Jenkins in 2016. If you don't have gray hair, you might be the only person in the audience without it. But that doesn't mean the film is not worth seeing.

Florence is a straightforward biopic about the titular heroine, a wealthy Manhattan music benefactress whose own ambitions to perform opera in public were marred by one small detail: she sang like a dying cat. That didn't stop her from performing at Carnegie Hall in 1944, in an unintentionally uproarious show that she funded herself.

Obviously, there is fun to be had in any film about a terrible singer. Director Stephen Frears is no stranger to social satire, and perhaps in his younger years he would have given us a sharper, nastier film about that modern American institution known as "ironic adoration for terrible things". The winsome Florence, in comparison, lacks bite. Nevertheless, it's intelligent and funny, the production values are first-rate, and Streep, as Jenkins, is both delightful onstage and poignant in private.

The great surprise, however, is Hugh Grant, as Jenkins' common-law husband St. Clair Bayfield. A failed actor living off of his wife's fortune, Bayfield's relationship with Jenkins was complicated, to say the least. Grant's been cynical about his career for years now, and it's easy to believe that he's phoned in many a rom-com performance. Working with Streep, however, he brings his A game, delivering a performance that is nuanced and real. It's quite possibly his best work.

The Big Bang Theory's Simon Helberg, as Jenkins' socially awkward pianist Cosmé McMoon, is more divisive. Some may find his nerdy mugging to be over-the-top. Others will find him charmingly unique. In the end, I think he acquits himself well, no matter how you might react to him in his earlier scenes.

I may have never seen Florence Foster Jenkins if I didn't have to take my mother-in-law. But it's a sweet, entertaining film, and I'm glad I caught it.