Meryl Streep continues her screw-the-Oscars, life-affirming run of movies with this ridiculously watchable comedy, playing filthy rich socialite Florence Foster Jenkins. In the 1930s, the deluded diva sang at private recitals in New York, warbling opera, blissfully unaware that her hilariously awful singing voice might shatter the chandeliers at any moment. (David Bowie put one of her records on his list of favourite albums.)
Wearing comically vile dresses that look like they’re made out of cushion covers and doilies, Streep is clearly having a blast. To sing this badly must stretch as many acting muscles as all that Oscar-winning emoting. When tone-deaf Florence opens her mouth it’s like opening the door on a barn full of on-heat foxes. Protecting her from the truth is Florence’s younger second husband, St Clair Bayfield (played by Hugh Grant, who has transformed into a silver fox overnight). His mission in life is to keep the ‘mockers and scoffers’ at bay, bribing audiences and paying off critics. He pampers and fusses over Florence, indulging her every whim (we all need a St Clair in our lives), but comes unstuck when Florence dreams big: hiring Carnegie Hall in 1944.
You could get a bit sour about ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’. What would her modern equivalent look like? A Russian oligarch’s little princess paying call centres in China to buy her songs on iTunes? But director Stephen Frears sketches out her tragic backstory, and Streep in grande dame mode is not to be missed. ‘We’re artists. We’d rather go without bread than Mozart,’ she trills, like a modern Marie Antoinette.