Brow Beat

Meryl Streep Plays a Terrible Opera Singer in the First Trailer for Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York socialite who loved music and studied piano at an early age, was a terrible singer. But as the world would find out nearly a century later with the arrival of Paris Hilton’s “music career,” where there’s a will—and lots of money—there’s always a way, and Jenkins’ utter lack of vocal prowess ultimately made her famous. When, in the early 1900s, she decided to pursue her lifelong dream of performing, her notably off-key and off-rhythm singing appealed to audiences who found her horrid style incredibly entertaining, and her commitment to it endearing. As her long-time accompanist Cosmé McMoon explained it decades later, “The audience, not wanting to hurt her feelings, developed a convention that whenever she came to a particularly excruciating discord, where they had to laugh, they burst into these salvos of applause and whistles, and the noise was so great that they could laugh at liberty.”

And who better to play a woman who was, during her time, universally agreed to be the worst at her craft, than the woman who is now universally agreed to be the best at hers? In Stephen Frears’ upcoming Jenkins biopic, Meryl Streep steps into her high society shoes, and in the first full trailer, the actress appears to be giving the role her own usual, wholehearted level of commitment. Hugh Grant plays her supportive, if beleaguered, manager St. Clair Bayfield, while Simon Helberg is a frequently exasperated McMoon. From the looks of it, Florence Foster Jenkins will be a delightful look at the odd phenomenon of Jenkins, unafraid to poke fun at her lack of self-awareness (Cosmé gets a lot of pained, comical reaction shots to Jenkins’ singing). And in the hands of these three actors, as well as the talented Frears (High-Fidelity, The Queen), it may turn out to be one of this year’s more memorable comedies. The film does not yet have a U.S. release date.