3 out of 5 stars
Directed effortlessly by Stephen Frears, with some interesting photography work, and starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, the film is unsurprisingly a mainstream crowd-pleaser, sentimental but not overly so. Based on the real Florence Foster Jenkins, a rich socialite in the 1940s whose love of music is sadly unmatched by her talents, Streep’s portrayal of Florence is that of a delicate woman with a wispy child-like voice in need of protection by those around her in order to maintain the delusion even though their hearts are in the right place. Thankfully the film does not play it too broadly for laughs, and even manages to keep a bit of an edge with fleeting touches on more controversial elements of their lives, though only just. Streep always gives a good, nuanced performance and though The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg matches her scene for scene in his likeable but fey characterization of her pianist, I much prefer a re-energized Grant, doing probably his best work since About A Boy, whose St Clair Bayfield is complex and touching, making sense of a character who is doting husband first, but also cheating philanderer, conspirator of her delusion and certainly a big benefactor of her wealth. Nice and charming enough as a multiplex filler but Marguerite earlier the year, which Frenchified and fictionalized the same source material, is funnier, less sentimental and totally recommendable. It would be a fascinating exercise to compare and contrast these films which, via different approaches and storylines, both refrain from laughing at its subject matter to find true heart in her story.