Meryl Streep can do anything. In her new movie, Florence Foster Jenkins, she is the title character, a real life self-created diva, Florence Foster Jenkins, who was the subject of ridicule for her very bad voice, at the same time that she had a cult following of fans--and still does. This period movie directed by Stephen Frears in gorgeous saturated color emphasizes Streep's extravagant brocade wardrobe and her peachy cheeks as she portrays this turn-of-the-century heiress, paying off her singing coach, her pianist Cosme McMoon ("Big Bang Theory"'s Simon Helberg really playing), and whoever, so as to promote her singing career. The penultimate moment is her performance at Carnegie Hall. Aided by her husband, St. Clair Bayfield, a sublime Hugh Grant--trust me, if you are remembering him as the callous beau in the Bridget Jones movies, here he is positively tender, she is mocked until a floozy (Nina Arianda is just adorable) quiets the laughing audience. Renee Fleming, who knows a thing or two about voices, said of Streep, introducing a special screening, you have to have a really good, versatile voice to play one so bad.
William Ivey Long, costume designer extraordinaire, did not make Streep's outfits for this film (Consolata Boyle did), but he wished he had, although Streep said she was mainly wearing pounds of rubber. He does know Streep for decades, and in a post-screening Q&A, brought out so much about her. For example, that she majored in costume design at Vassar, and took sewing class with Christopher Durang. She based her Florence Foster Jenkins on her grandmother who had an "endless bosom: it was kind of a breakfront," she laughed in that sweet way that she laughs, eyes twinkling.
A private dinner ensued, where else, but Carnegie Hall, with many friends: Christine Baranski, Carol Kane, and Jayne Houdyshell, who had just taken home a Tony the night before for her role in The Humans. Meryl Streep worked the room. How do you find the humanity in such a silly, privileged woman? "The push and pull of it," Streep replied, "is finding the person inside the ridiculous. She possessed the pure joy of the amateur."
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