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It is hard to pin down Florence Foster Jenkins the film. Is it inspirational biopic, goofball comedy, relationship drama, tragedy, or even horror? Florence Foster Jenkins the woman is just as tricky. The true story of a tone-deaf singer who was celebrated as much as she was mocked is indeed a tonal challenge, and the result is confusing and fascinating in equal measure. This is hardly a surprise, as director Stephen Frears has a knack for transforming what initially seems like a simple prestige picture into something subtly challenging.

The performances embody the multifaceted whole. Meryl Streep alternately plays Jenkins as guileless and take-charge. It might be among her best performances, but it is so unusual for her that I can’t say for sure. As Jenkins’ husband, Hugh Grant is intensely loyal and intensely conflicted. And Simon Helberg (relishing the freedom from the stereotype-heavy Big Bang Theory) is a tic-filled delight as Jenkins’ pianist, won over by her charms despite the laughs he holds back and the worries for his reputation. Your reaction to her is likely to be just as mixed, in a good way.

I give Florence Foster Jenkins a hearty round of applause.

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