OTHER GREAT FILMS:
THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN - Oscar nominated.
SILKWOOD - The true story of an original whistle-blower. Nominated.
MUSIC OF THE HEART - Nominated.
JULIA - Brilliant performances by everyone in this Lillian Hellman story.
A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Julie and Julia (Julia Child)
WELL, SOME PEOPLE MAY HAVE LIKED THEM:
POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE - Princess Leia lets her hair down. Nominated.
IRONWEED - Late ‘80s was too late for this. Nominated.
PLENTY - It helps to care about playwright David Hare’s view on post-war Britain.
HEARTBURN - Yes, it’s hard to stomach.
THE MERYL YOU LOVE TO HATE:
(not her performance, mind you; her character)
KRAMER VS. KRAMER - The woman who left the cutest boy in the world in the care of her incompetent husband. She won her first Oscar for it.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA - Brilliantly vicious as the editor of a fashion magazine.
MANHATTAN - The woman who left Woody Allen for another woman.
MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE - Not exactly mother of the year.
Doubt (a tyrannical nun, out to get Philip Seymour Hoffman)
Rendition (CIA chief, lying about torturing American citizens)
DEALING WITH DEATH:
SOPHIE’S CHOICE - The sine qua non on the subject of dealing with death.
THE HOURS - Virginia Woolf to the third degree.
MARVIN’S ROOM - A magnificent adaptation of Scott McPherson’s play.
THE DEERHUNTER - An early solid performance, earning an Academy nomination.
OUT OF AFRICA - At least at the end…
ONE TRUE THING - Also earning an Oscar nomination.
DEATH BECOMES HER - Well, sort of dealing with death – in a comic way.
DEFENDING YOUR LIFE - Helping Albert Brooks deal with his life after death.
COMEDY ROLES! (NO, REALLY!):
A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION - She sings! (She contemplated a career in opera originally.)
A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS - The paranoid grammarian, Aunt Josephine.
PRIME - A psychiatrist forced into listening to a patient, Uma Thurman, talk about sex with her son.
ADAPTATION - The author of the book that Charlie is trying to adapt.
DEATH BECOMES HER - Fighting with Goldie Hawn, she gets to be mean AND funny.
DEFENDING YOUR LIFE - Literally the “perfect” straight person for Albert Brooks’s post-mortem comedy of insecurity.
THE REAL MERYL?:
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA ...
It’s not that the actress herself is manipulative, though she has a (good) reputation for being a perfectionist, and she is intimidating even from the back row of a darkened room. There is no doubt that any powerful, egocentric, intelligent, stylish – and, hey, we’ll throw in maternal – woman would want this part.
It seems that every great American actress (French, Italian, Spanish and British, too) has as a defining characteristic a distant, patrician (matrician?) quality. Though Bette Davis knew that Meryl would one day inherit the crown as the greatest living actress (and right now there is nobody even close), Katherine Hepburn didn’t like her acting. That, of course, reveals more about Kate than it does about Streep. (Even though Streep needs a couple more Oscar wins, with her 14 nominations, to best Ms. Hepburn.) Both came by their patrician quality the easy way – they were born into it. Besides a stuffy New England education and the patrician thing, the similarities wither.
Kate traded on that unmistakable charmed voice, and she always had an eccentric beauty. Meryl trades on her ability to change her voice remarkably for every role, letting her accents and vocal patterns reveal much about the character. But it is almost always tiny, soft, often breathless – except in comedies, or in dramatic scenes that demand that it drops three octaves for a knockout punch. And her beauty? For most of her roles, it seems that’s the first thing she throws away in her preparations.
What the voice reveals, too, is that intense preparation that the actor gives to every performance. What you see is the complete immersion into another personality (Duh! yes, but it’s still rare), down to particularly revealing bits and business, a type of inner struggle to match an outer struggle, and of course the hair.
And then there is the comedy. She says she likes it and she has the chops to prove it. Whether it’s sophisticated “Adaptation,” a character-revealing funny accent in “Prairie Home Companion,” or just plain fun “Lemony Snicket,” there is no question that the greatest living actress can do comedy, too.
BITS AND QUIRKS:
Okay, she’s great, but, of course she has the old reliable closet of repeating bits. She loves the turn away of the head into almost a profile, and combines it with a plethora of accessories. She’ll pause there to let you know she’s thinking. Sometimes it’s with the chin nestled into the shoulder, sometimes just staring out, as if getting the courage up for the next line. Usually, it’s with the arms crossed, too, and often a little stooping of the shoulders, or a faint scratching of the neck or twiddling of the hair. The opposite of that is the immensely proud, defiant, stretching of the neck and rearing of the head, ready for the attack. Her glares really aren’t bits and certainly not quirks, except in the variety of them. “Prada” is a veritable fashion show of revealing glares and stares.
OUT OF AFRICA -
Flying over Africa with Redford. > The funeral and the long good-byes at the end. > The fascinating dinner table stories.
LEMONY SNICKET -
“The mayor of crazy town” scene, when Josephine reveals her variety of paranoia.
DEVIL WEARS PRADA -
“Beneath the mask” revelation of her impending divorce. > Her entrance, complete with the fearful preparation by everyone else, her rapid-fire instructions and her interview of Anne Hathaway. > The “cerulean” speech.
Working with Chris Cooper, particularly in the haywired ending.
SOPHIE’S CHOICE -
Virtually every scene, but the ones with just Stingo have such quiet elegance. > “The Choice,” of course.
DEFENDING YOUR LIFE -
The “trial” scenes of her perfect life.
GO TO THE... MERYL STREEP BIO