The comedy at the heart of this sympathetic portrait of the notoriously tone deaf amateur soprano Florence Foster Jenkins edges towards the cruel, stoking a sense of delusion and naivety that grows steadily as the film builds to its climax.
Jenkins (Meryl Streep, gloriously off-key) was the wealthy New York socialite famous for giving concerts in which she appeared not to recognise or accept that she was unable to hit the high notes required.
Her supporters, principally husband and mediocre actor St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), encouraged her ambitions whilst maintaining a protective carapace that presented an illusion of competence.
Thus the charade is preserved, with Bayfield seeing off the “mockers and sneerers” out of devotion to this passionate but talentless chanteuse. “Ours is a very happy world,” he observes. But always threatening to burst this peculiar bubble is the notion of exploitation. Bayfield is a kept man with a separate address and a glamorous girlfriend. Jenkins’ tutor takes her money, tells her she’s never sounded better and runs for the hills. Ultimately a tragic tale, Florence Foster Jenkins presents the story of a supreme fantasist. Streep drifts through a world linked only tenuously to reality in which reviewers are bribed and audiences seeded with allies. Her vocals capably represent Jenkins’ in that they are execrable – no mean feat for a singer of some skill. But all is delivered with a creditable straight face.
Simon (Big Bang Theory) Helberg almost steals the film as pianist Cosme McMoon, who shares a stage with Jenkins and is frequently on the edge of hysteria. He channels the mood of the various audiences – a beacon of logic and common sense in an escalating world of fantasy.