Saturday, June 30, 2012

Shoulda Coulda Wouldas #4: "Evita"

For some time I've wanted to add this film to my Shoulda Coulda Wouldas section, but I figured before I could write about it I had to actually watch it.  My uncle Jim lent me his copy of Evita about two years ago and I got around to viewing  So thank you/sorry Jim, as I'm sure you've forgotten by now that you ever owned the DVD.

Why Evita?  Most big Meryl fans know that a film version of this 1978 musical was planned shortly after its London debut.   By the mid to late 1980's several actresses, including Meryl, were considered for the lead of Eva Perón.   Madonna evidently campaigned for the role pretty hard, and as much as I'd like it to be true, the quote of Meryl saying "I can sing better than Madonna...if she gets the part I'll rip her throat out" is in fact Hollywood lore.

From what I understand, Meryl was actually offered the role in 1989, with production to begin in early 1990.  If we think about the timing of this, in retrospect it would've been perfect for awards positioning.   Had filming indeed started in early 1990 with Meryl in the lead, it likely would've had a 1991 release.  Call it a hunch, but I think this picture would've been a bigger deal than Meryl's 1991 film Defending Your Life.  Haven't seen it?  Yeah, few have.   Alas, production was delayed, directors changed and Meryl was out of the running by the time Evita was released in late 1996.   I was surprised to read in an article from the L.A. Times that Streep's representative cited "exhaustion" for her non-involvement in the film.  Sounds more like an excuse we'd hear from  Lindsay Lohan, and I question the claim's validity.

This film is actually decent.  Who doesn't love a good musical?   Joe mentioned recently that he used to repeatedly watch this movie during his self-described "Andrew Lloyd Webber phase" in high school.  Until watching the film today, I never realized what an affinity Lloyd Webber had for creating a sort of omniscient singing narrator in his musicals, a la Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph.   The plot takes us through the life of Eva Duarte, who overcomes a modest upbringing to win over the heart of Argentinian military officer Juan Perón.  Perón ultimately becomes president of Argentina, with immense help from his populist vote-garnering wife.  Despite their appeal to the poor and middle class, the Argentinian bourgeoisie (and some historians for that matter) assailed the Peróns as demagogues and dictators.  How juicy. 

The story seems so up Meryl's alley.  Evita is a major historical figure, a glamorous and strong woman, and the film takes place in South America.  The Argentinian setting would've been a first for Meryl.  Had she ultimately been in the film, perhaps she would've reconsidered her decision to join an almost all Anglo-American cast to portray a Chilean family in 1993's box-office flop The House of the Spirits.   I'm sure that wouldn't have mattered, but I can't help jabbing Spirits because it's super boring.   She would've been singing in English in Evita anyway.   Or would she?

A big chunk of this particular shoulda coulda woulda idea is that Meryl would've been in a musical.  Keep in mind this was long before Mamma Mia!, and after a decade of very heavy dramatic roles in the 80's, a musical of this caliber would've been a novel choice.   And let's keep it real; yes, Meryl indeed can sing better than Madonna.   The one thing I noticed about the score however is that some of Evita's part are rather high.  Meryl has stated in interviews that she once possessed a good coloratura voice.  I'm not sure if she meant soprano, but technically the coloratura Fach can be represented in any vocal tessitura, and Streep's voice, at least in performances of hers I've heard, seems to be closer to a mezzo.   But who knows, she may have had no problem with it. 

Meryl would've killed in that scene.  Not to take away anything from Madonna, who did a fine job.  It couldn't have been easy when Argentinians were protesting her participation in the film.  Many didn't approve based on some of her more racy career choices.  How can we forget her 1992 book Sex?  Streep likely would've experienced no such backlash.  Kudos to Madonna for winning the Golden Globe award for Actress in a Musical or Comedy in 1997.   That's usually a slam dunk for Meryl, and I don't think an Oscar nomination would've been out of the question with the right director and co-stars.   The film ultimately was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning for best original song "You Must Love Me."

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