Friday, March 28, 2014

My "reimagined" Streep filmography: Part 3

As I begin the third section of this history, I want to briefly reflect on section two and the fact that I’ve added a pair of films to Meryl’s catalogue over the period of five years.  With Dances with Wolves in 1990 and Six Degrees of Separation in 1994, one may wonder if it’s reasonable to assume Streep would’ve been up for such a grueling schedule.  I counter such a suggestion with the fact that Meryl has been quoted as saying to her husband when she was 38, “well it’s over.” This would’ve been right around the time A Cry in the Dark wrappedMeryl knew she was approaching an age in Hollywood where actresses began losing box office appeal.   Considering her workaholic tendencies, had the opportunity to continue to portray complex characters into her forties been there, I imagine she would’ve jumped at the chance, even if it involved a somewhat more hectic schedule at times. 

The strains of schedule ultimately made Meryl and Don move their brood to the Los Angeles area in 1991 when her atypical stint of Hollywood-based films was underway.   I recall hearing Streep say in an interview that her son Henry had asked if they could cool it with the “on location” filming.  In the aforementioned Weintraub New York Times piece, he suggests that Streep moved because she had been filming a number of movies in L.A.  This situation is plausible even if we assume my reimagined history.  Yes, I’ve removed movies she filmed in 1989 (She-Devil) and 1990 (Defending Your Life).  But had she filmed Postcards from the Edge and Thelma & Louise in 1990 (both shot in California), one can see why she may be inclined to have a home in the area, a piece of information the importance of which will become apparent a bit later in this section. 

Back on the east coast by 1994, Streep had received a call from director Clint Eastwood to star as Italian war bride Francesca in the adaptation of best-selling novel The Bridges of Madison County.  A commercial success, the film earned her a 10th Academy Award nomination.   The gap between 1990 and 1995 was and continues to be her longest break between nominations.  Something tells me that wouldn’t have been the case had she managed to land a few of the roles I’ve suggested. 

After the success of Bridges, Streep starred in a string of films that more resembled her path in the ‘80s.  Perhaps after her experiment of campy Hollywood comedies turned out to be less fruitful than hoped, she returned to her tried and true process of role selection and delivered a string of exquisite portrayals of challenging and diverse characters.  Disregarding Before and After (a lackluster flop which I’m removing), 1996 saw Streep team with Diane Keaton and a young Leonardo DiCaprio in Marvin’s Room.  In a bit of a departure, Meryl played the unsympathetic, blue-collar single mother of DiCaprio, while Keaton portrayed her cancer-stricken spinster sister.  Both received Golden Globe nominations for Actress in a Drama and for SAG ensemble, while Keaton scored both individual SAG and Oscar noms. 

In February 1997, Streep starred in the made for TV movie ...First Do No Harm.  The project remains the only film Meryl co-produced.  While living in California several years earlier, she had met producer Jim Abrahams and his son, Charlie, who suffered from a debilitating form of epilepsy.  Charlie’s health was drastically improved by the controversial and understudied ketogenic diet.  This story sparked the film, in which Meryl plays a fictionalized version of Charlie’s mother in a sort of public service announcement meant to draw attention to this form of treatment.  Despite the humble production, the role earned Streep Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and she continues to act as an advocate for the Charlie Foundation. 

For the second half of 1997, I’m bumping up a film which was originally released in 1998, Dancing at Lughnasa.  An Irish ensemble piece, this film, in my opinion, was essentially lost in the shuffle.  Similarly to Plenty in 1985, Dancing at Lughnasa, while an exquisite film and excellent performance from Meryl, was overshadowed by her Academy Award-nominated performance in One True Thing, also released in ‘98.  Were Streep able to film Dancing in summer 1996 and First Do No Harm in the fall (as it was originally), it would’ve allowed for the pair to both be released in 1997.  This would’ve made it possible to better promote Dancing at Lughnasa in late ‘97 and perhaps even make a push for awards recognition.  One True Thing will remain in place as the lone film for 1998.  A year later we see her star in Music of the Heart, a film for which she spent the better part of two months learning to play the violin.  Along with the ability to perform Bach’s Concerto in D Minor, Meryl gained her 12th Oscar nomination. 

Streep had a three year gap in films after 1999’s Music of the Heart.  In order to adhere to my self-imposed “guideline” of having at least one project per calendar year, I somehow have to fill the void.  2000 is where I’m inserting a film in which Meryl was set to star (and co-produce) with Glenn Close: a screen adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s play Mary Stuart.  The news was first announced in summer 1997 with shooting expected to begin the following year, suggesting a 1999 release.  Richard Eyre was set to direct with a screenplay by Charles Wood.  Streep was to play the title character, Mary Queen of Scots, with Close as her English cousin Elizabeth I. 

Aside from getting to try her hand at some form of a French/Scottish accent (for the most part Stuart was raised in the French court), the pairing with Close in a dramatic historical drama is an enticing prospect.  Unfortunately, as so often happens, adequate funding took a while to come together and Streep ultimately withdrew from the project saying her “heart was no longer in it.”  Let’s assume for a moment that even though funding was delayed Meryl stuck with the project.  Pushing the expected shooting schedule back a year from 1998 to 1999 would’ve no doubt given the film a 2000 release date.  Even though this would’ve been the third high-profile film in three years to depict some version of Elizabeth I on the big screen (following Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love in ‘98), I imagine critics and fans being unable to resist this dream pairing.

2001 is a little easier.  Adaptation was filmed March-June of that year and Columbia had originally intended on a December release.  Had everything come together as originally planned, we would’ve seen Meryl’s satirized turn as author Susan Orlean a year earlier than its original premiere in 2002.  Incidentally, Streep broke Katharine Hepburn’s record of 12 Oscar nominations with this performance.  Following Adaptation, Meryl joined Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore in The Hours, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham.  As these two films were originally both released in late 2002, moving Adaptation up a year would leave The Hours to stand alone in ‘02.  Despite Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, a mix up in category placement left Streep off the nominee list for both films at SAG and snubbed by the Academy for The Hours.  Were Streep only eligible for one film in 2002, the category placement obviously would not have been an issue, and her Oscar nomination chances no doubt would’ve increased dramatically.

Around this time, we again see a bit of a shift in the Streep trajectory.  In her original filmography, the two year filming break in 1999-2000 acted as sort of unexpected reset point for her in the industry.  Any sufferers of “Streep fatigue”, the concept of which is largely a myth in my opinion, were likely pacified for the time being.  Indeed, the simple fact of having zero films released in 2000-01 may have been enough to establish a different view of Streep, now in her 50’s, but I offer that it was more the types of projects and roles she found at the turn of the millenium that provided for this change. 

After a five year period between 1995 and 2000 where Meryl’s films (again assuming my reimagined adjustments) tended to be a showcase for her abilities, we now see her under the direction of auteur(ish) filmmakers like Spike Jonze and Stephen Daldry.  Solidifying this trend in 2003, Streep played four separate roles in the HBO miniseries of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.  Directed by Mike Nichols, the project saw Streep sharing the screen with her friend Emma Thompson and the great Al Pacino.  Garnering 21 total Emmy nominations, Angels broke a record previously held by Roots with eleven wins.  Meryl was among those winners, adding to the Golden Globe and SAG trophies she earned for her performance. 

Now is probably a good time to pause and look back on the film list for this third section of my reimagined Streep filmography:

1995 The Bridges of Madison County
1996 Marvin's Room (Before and After eliminated)
1997 ...First Do No Harm--TV
Dancing at Lughnasa (moved from 1998)
1998 One True Thing
1999 Music of the Heart
2000 Mary Stuart (additional)
2001 Adaptation (moved from 2002)
2002 The Hours
2003 Angels in America--TV

part 4 in one week


  1. Well you've made less changes here than I imagined but I agree this era worked well!
    Have you ever seen the film "In The Bedroom" Jeff? I always thought that would have been an amazing film for Meryl which was released in 2001.

    As I said before, I thought Music of the Heart would have worked better on televistion as the subject matter was quite geared towards that medium.
    I am very happy to hear you really like Dancing at Lughnasa. My Father watched the film and at the end asked who was that Irish actress? High praise indeed coming from an Irish person! I agree it got lost upon release but it was very well received in Ireland judging by media reviews etc.

    I agree with getting rid of Before and After. It had promise on paper but ended up a waste of time and talent. I read Meryl complaining about how it was directed too. Did you manage to see "Safe" with Julianne Moore? I think this is an interesting choice as well circa 1995-96.

    I wonder if Meryl would have fared any better with Oscar had Adaptation been released speedily in 2001? Jennifer Connoly was very good in A Beautiful Mind but I never considered her brilliant. I am glad CZJ won as it meant a lot to her but the fact is Meryl had the best performance.
    I know we're unlikely to know but it would be fun to know which nominations meryl was most hopeful about. From the Kathy Bates story of that night it seems Meryl was a bit pissed at losing here.

    Looking forward to the last part of the re-imagining. It's amazing to think how successful these last few years have been for Meryl critically and commercially. She shines brighter now than ever but will still be good to see a fresh take on the era!

    1. You're right, not too many changes here. You'll see even fewer in the fourth section but I definitely change a couple things.

      I actually have not seen In the Bedroom but I know it received rave reviews. I also have found no evidence that Meryl was ever attached or even in consideration for the film.

      Agreed on 2001 vs Connoly. And so glad your father was convinced Meryl was Irish! That's the one case I know of where Meryl wasn't confident in her accent at first, as the dialect coach had to have her make some corrections.

    2. Yes I remember her talking about the difficulties but she was perfect. That's the difference between your revisions and mine. Yours are much more realistic and mine are random dreams!