FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS

3 stars

Based on the true story of a patron of the early 20th century New York music scene, this movie is nothing special cinematically, but still enjoyable if you were, like I was, totally unfamiliar with the outrageous story. Jenkins (Meryl Streep), an heiress and founder of the private Verdi Club devoted to opera performance, believed herself to be a most accomplished soprano. Her performances were notable for her elaborate costumes and her off-key flailing at complex arias far above her own musical ability. Her performances eventually attained a kind of cult status but the movie implies that Jenkins was protected from the knowledge of her clownish fame by a bubble of sycophants, principally her pretend husband St. Clair Byfield (a tricky role played well by Hugh Grant). The story of an ultra-rich self-deluded narcissist who leaves people gasping in disbelief every time they open their mouth has obvious parallels to the current US election cycle, no doubt a happy coincidence for the movie’s producers. The comedy of the whole situation is enhanced hilariously by Simon Helberg (best known for playing Howard Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory) as Jenkins’ delicate new accompanist Cosmé McMoon, who, initially smug at having beaten out a cadre of macho Rachmaninoff enthusiasts for the lucrative job, is left subsequently in a state of permanent perplexity.

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