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Meryl Streep proves that it takes a great performer to play a bad one well in the odd and sweet comedy "Florence Foster Jenkins."

Streep plays Jenkins, a real-life New York socialite and heiress in New York, 1944, a woman with an undying love for opera and a misbegotten belief that she can sing it. Florence performs occasionally for members of the private music clubs she has founded, with friendly and forgiving audiences rigidly controlled by her husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), a less-than-successful Shakespearean actor who has a girlfriend (Rebecca Ferguson) on the side.

Into this carefully ordered world comes Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg, from "The Big Bang Theory"), a mild-mannered accompanist who must hide his shock at Madame Florence's flat, shrill and wavering voice. Undaunted, Florence becomes determined to fulfill her dream by renting out Carnegie Hall for her first public performance.

Director Stephen Frears ("Philomena") and screenwriter Nicholas Martin (a TV veteran making his feature debut) revel in the '40s frippery and strike a nice balance between the farcical comedy of Florence's performances and the underlying sadness that drives them. Streep, naturally, makes that balancing act seem effortless and seems to delight in capturing all of Florence's vocal imperfections.

'Florence Foster Jenkins'

Opens Friday, Aug. 12, at theaters everywhere; rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material; 110 minutes.