Used to be the prerequisite for Hollywood biopics was the subject had to be interesting enough to sustain a two-hour movie. It always held true, even when the guest of honor was a complete hack like the hapless movie director Ed Wood, famously profiled by one of his rare admirers in Tim Burton. But like civil presidential politics, that’s now all out the door with the Donald Trump of biopics, “Florence Foster Jenkins.” It’s not just unqualified; it’s offensive to the nth degree in its callous assessment of mental illness. What could be funnier? Well, just about anything beyond Stephen Frears’ insensitive look at the title character, whose vast eccentricities are cruelly played for laughs until the final five or 10 minutes, when the director suddenly asks us to feel sorry for a woman whose sanity has been ravaged for 50 years by syphilis. That someone as “caring and compassionate” as Meryl Streep (remember her wrapped in the flag at the Democratic National Convention?) would be party to such a blatant character assassination is, frankly, shocking. Even more dumbfounding is how this cheesy, unfunny tripe is drawing raves from the nation’s film critics.

What’s next? A rip-roaring comedy about Yoko Ono, who like Florence Foster Jenkins is a transplanted New Yorker under the mistaken impression that she can actually sing? Imagine (no pun intended) the jokes that could be derived from that, and her husband’s murder? Yes, that’s how low Frears and his sophomoric freshman screenwriter Nicholas Martin stoop in a movie that recycles its one-note premise — that a delusional woman is rife for laughs — to the point of rapidly diminishing returns.

Ah, but I digress from my original point, which is who in the world thought Florence Foster Jenkins was worthy of not one, but two biopics — in the SAME year? The other entry being the vastly superior French import, “Marguerite,” which offered a more fictionalized version of our American “hero.” Yet, like this one, that film suffered from a chronic lack of a reason to exist.

Again, who thought this woman interesting? But let me let you judge for yourself, assuming that like most of us, you’ve never heard the name Florence Foster Jenkins. So, a little background (most of which the picture stingily omits): Born in Pennsylvania in 1868, Florence Foster grew up a piano prodigy from a moneyed family. She even performed for President Rutherford B. Hayes at the White House. Then, as a teenager, a beef with her strict father drove her to elope with the older, worldlier Dr. Thornton Jenkins, who almost immediately infected her with the aforementioned STD, which she treated with barbaric ointments and chemicals — arsenic in particular. As her mind slowly rotted, her belief grew that she had the chops to sing opera like Caruso, which lured her deeper and deeper into the New York arts scene, where she became a huge benefactor. With assistance of her longtime (and platonic) companion, Brit St. Clair Bayfield (played nicely by a very mature looking Hugh Grant), she sponsored private fund-raising performances through her Verdi Club, shows that were always capped by her croaking arias.

Like Hans Christian Andersen’s emperor, no one had the courage to tell her she couldn’t sing for fear of losing her financial support. That’s where we come in, as Streep’s Jenkins enters the final year of her life in 1944. Knowing her days are numbered, she strives to realize her dream of performing at the singing mecca, Carnegie Hall. The caveat being that if she performs in public, she’ll be exposed as a fraud. Cue the many scenes of Bayfield attempting to use Jenkin’s cash to buy concertgoers’ silence after they experience her ear-piercing vocals. Mix those with the many cutaways to Jenkins caterwauling through rehearsals with her voice coach and loyal, fame-craving pianist, Cosme McMoon (“The Big Bang Theory’s” Simon Helberg shamelessly hamming it up).

The idea is for us to laugh at all of this — and Jenkins’ cluelessness about Bayfield, who runs off to his “kept” mistress (a wasted Rebecca Ferguson) every night after tucking “the woman he loves” snuggly into bed. The problem is that none of it is funny; especially knowing that Bayfield is a cad. Grant is terrific at convincing us that deep down he really cares about Jenkins, but his actions don’t always support that notion. As for Streep, she seems to think she’s on the Broadway stage, shamelessly over emoting. It’s not one of her better performances, but then Frears and Martin give her absolutely nothing to work with. She’s game, but the material is just lame. And that’s what makes “Florence Foster Jenkins” every bit as tone deaf as its subject.

Cover your ears

“Florence Foster Jenkins”
Cast includes Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg and Rebecca Ferguson.
(PG-13 for brief suggestive material)
Grade: C-