Florence Foster Jenkins ★★★½

"We'd rather go without bread than Mozart." ~ Florence Foster Jenkins

We all know Meryl Streep as a versatile actress who can play just about any part, but this role must have been quite challenge. The biopic directed by Stephen Frears brings us a glimpse of the sunset years of a real New York heiress with a tin ear and an off-key voice who wanted to be an opera singer circa WWII.

At first we may think Jenkins (Streep) is just some loony eccentric with too much cash on her hands who feels the need to be involved in the arts. But when we learn the heartbreaking truth of her first marriage and the illness that is gradually draining away her life ... well, let's say it gave me pause and tremendous respect for the tightrope Steep had to walk to make this part work so damn well.

Hugh Grant also deserves kudos for playing the patroness's supportive husband, St Clair Bayfield, a stage actor who never made it on his own and owes all he has to Jenkins' generosity. He's got a mistress on the side named Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson), who gives him the physical love that his wife won't or can't. But again, when we know why these relationships have evolved as they have -- the big dark secret -- clearly Grant is acting at the top his game as well.

Others in the cast include noted ensemble actor Simon Helberg as Jenkins' newly hired, closeted gay pianist Cosmé McMoon, David Haig as her vocal coach Carlo Edwards and John Kavanagh as the renowned conductor Arturo Toscanini. There'a also Christian McKay as the New York Post critic Earl Wilson, Allan Corduner as the concert hall manager John Totten and Nina Arianda as Agnes, the beautiful new low-brow wife of meatpacking king Phineas Stark, played by Stanley Townsend.

The plot here follows Jenkins' late-life journey to sing on stage at Carnegie Hall, which actually occurred before a sell-out crowd in 1944. The pains everyone goes to in order to make it a positive experience are over the top, but she deserves it. And Streep deserved the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA nominations she got for Best Actress, just as Grant did for his acting nominations. I'll be surprised if the Academy Awards don't throw some love their way, too. This film is a gem in terms of their performances.

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