Looney tune

Send your mum and dad to see Florence Foster Jenkins.

***

Florence Foster Jenkins
Cert: PG

It is a mark of Meryl Streep’s imperiousness that she can even make the off-key warblings of a delusional operetta no-hoper sound like a deft dramatic coup.

In channeling Florence Foster Jenkins, the 1940s New York society hostess who wouldn’t let something like tone-deafness get in the way of her concert-hall aspirations, Streep masterfully evokes the heiress’s core dynamic – buffoonery mixed with a faint air of the tragic.

It’s quite an act to pull off, even if the overall tone of Stephen Frears’ latest is as light and sugary as a meringue. Hugh Grant is perfectly, well, Hugh Grant as St. Clair Bayfield, the aristocratic English actor who managed Jenkins and masqueraded as her husband. Waddling into this strange, affluent Uptown New York set-up is Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory) as Cosmé McMoon, the meek and talented pianist and composer who is leaned on eloquently by St Clair to pay no attention to the atonal elephant in the room.

Sure enough, not everyone is quite so easily silenced, namely a critic impervious to bribes and servicemen back from duty in Europe who are inconsolable with laughter at Florence’s performance. Those who earn a living off her (watch out for Irish thesps John Kavanagh and Brid Brennan) must scramble to maintain her dignity and subdue the titters, but for how long?

Frears is gentle enough with his real-life charge and allows Jenkins to emerge as a good-natured character and a loveable example of mind over matter. Minute attention to detail is paid to the aesthetics of that golden era (take a bow, Dublin costume designer Consolata Boyle), and while it all may feel a little throwaway by the time of the grand finale, you can’t deny there is a jolly pleasant, if shrill, melody about the whole thing.

3/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

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Published by

Hilary A White

Dublin-based arts journalist and reviewer, specialising in film, books, music and human-interest stories. Sunday Independent / Irish Independent / State.ie / RTE Radio 1 / Today FM

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