Disappointing. The wealthy socialite who was never told she could not sing by acolytes and sycophants could have been a rich source for Meryl Streep and director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena). It took the misguided recital at Carnegie Hall in 1944 in front of a public audience for the realisation to hit home. It reportedly killed her, suffering a heart attack a mere two days after scathing reviews.
It’s Streep who is miscast. Here she is in her mannered, actorly, slightly manic Julie & Julia mode. Suffering from syphilis for more than 50 years, the side-effect of the disease and its treatment (mercury) would have left Florence more than skittish. Eccentricity verging on madness (at a minimum) would have been the order of the day. In failing to nail this, Florence Foster Jenkins falls somewhat flat.
Instead, we get a safe, modest entertainment that certainly has its moments – Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory) is a revelation as Cosme McMoon, Florence’s pianist and Hugh Grant (Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral) gets his best role in years. But it says a lot when the film is at its best when Florence is washing dishes or not on screen at all.