In the decade leading up to the present, Meryl Streep carved for herself a place in the film industry which, in my opinion, is unrivaled. Despite a paucity of lead roles for women of her generation, Streep managed to stay relevant with a delicious mix of collaborations which have brought us comedy, musicals, social commentary and of course some Oscar bait. You’ll notice that I make the fewest changes in this section of my filmography, as the string of high-profile pictures she has made during this period requires little interference.
Beginning with 2004, we begin to see Meryl in more frequent, supporting roles. A remake of the political thriller The Manchurian Candidate, directed by Jonathan Demme, modernized an Oscar-nominated role originated in 1962 by Angela Lansbury. The film earned Streep both Golden Globe and SAG nominations. Later that year, she had a small role in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, a film which earned $209 million worldwide. I imagine Meryl may have had interest in this film due to it being based on a series of children’s books from the late 90’s, a time when she had an eight year-old in the house who was possibly a fan.
2005 requires a little fine-tuning. Some may be surprised that I’m keeping Prime, but I happen to find it a charming and funny film which ushered in a string of wonderfully effective comedic performances. To keep with my guideline of having at least one film per year either contest for awards recognition or serve some kind of direct personal or socially conscious purpose (which Prime did not), I’m left with another vacancy. In late 2004, Streep was scheduled to film All the King’s Men, another political remake, this time with a role which earned Mercedes McCambridge a Supporting Actress Academy Award for her 1949 performance. Meryl dropped out shortly before shooting began, being replaced by Patricia Clarkson. In retrospect, Streep was wise to withdraw from the project, as the film required endless editing, was pushed back to a 2006 release date, and ended up being a decided failure critically and commercially. One can’t help but wonder how the quality of this film may have changed provided a more seasoned director and appropriate cast, suggestions of which I’ve made here.
I’m leaving 2006-2009 completely untouched. During that period, Streep starred in no fewer than ten feature films. 2006 saw her in the ensemble piece A Prairie Home Companion, directed by Robert Altman in what would be his last film. My friend Steph and I happened to be extras in this film when they filmed at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, MN. With The Devil Wears Prada released shortly afterward, Streep reached new heights of popularity. The film grossed $124 million domestically and over $300 million worldwide, catapulting Meryl into a territory she had never before enjoyed. Reaching a new male audience with her role as the boss from hell, Streep had proved to be a box office juggernaut at the age of 57, picking up a Golden Globe win and SAG/Oscar nominations in the process.
With supporting roles in four films that were released in 2007, one might think this was a strange encore to a highly lucrative 2006. We must remember however that any success Streep would’ve enjoyed from Prada would be realized during the time she was already shooting the films that were to be released in 2007. Dark Matter was never given a proper release due to the proximity of and similarity to the Virginia Tech massacre. In it, Streep plays a Sinophile who sponsors Chinese graduate students. I have a weird suspicion that Meryl took the role simply because she got to speak a bit of Mandarin, and what other chance would she ever have to speak an East Asian language on screen?
Evening, with a June release in 2007 underwhelmed with critics and moviegoers, but it gave Streep the chance to star in a film with her daughter Mamie Gummer (playing an older version of the same character), and enjoy a great scene with the marvelous Vanessa Redgrave. The final pair of films in ‘07 saw Meryl provide more social commentary, as Rendition and Lions for Lambs both centered around U.S. relations with the Middle East. As an outspoken advocate for progressive causes, these two role choices from Meryl are not surprising, six years into a George W. Bush presidency.
With the release of Mamma Mia! in 2008, the brief spell of scant box office performance turned on a dime. Streep has stated that shortly after the World Trade Center attacks of 2001, she took her daughter and some her friends to the musical on Broadway and found it pure joy. When finding herself in the position to star in a film version, she was thrilled to join. Despite mixed reviews, the film would earn Streep a Globe nod and go on to be her biggest commercial success by far, amassing a whopping $600 million in ticket sales worldwide, further establishing Meryl as a bankable draw in cinemas. Mamma Mia! was followed by an adaptation of John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt, which secured Streep a SAG award and her fifteenth Academy Award nomination.
The hits kept coming in 2009, along with the awards. Julie & Julia scored Meryl her second Golden Globe award in three years and 16th overall Oscar nomination. It’s Complicated followed, providing another Globe nomination and grossing an impressive $219 million worldwide. Ten films: five Globe nominations (two wins) and three SAG (one win), BAFTA and Oscar nominations between 2006 and 2009. Not to mention a staggering $1.4 billion in worldwide box office receipts. Streep had found a nice one-two punch of starring in a mix of lovable comedies in addition to her more customary sober dramas.
By this point, Meryl was understandably due for a break. After filming was complete on It’s Complicated in August 2009, Streep wouldn’t film again until early 2011. What am I going to do about 2010? If production on It’s Complicated could’ve come together say in February 2009 instead of April, and if director Nancy Meyers hadn’t needed five months to film what appears to be a relatively “uncomplicated” production design, shooting may have reasonably wrapped by May or June. We can still leave 2010 completely free of filming if there’s a second project for Meryl to do in 2009 which could then be released in 2010.
As early as 2006, it was announced that Streep was in negotiations to star alongside Anthony Hopkins in an adaptation of Jay Parini’s 1990 novel The Last Station . Meryl would’ve portrayed Countess Sofya Andreyevna Tolstaya, wife to Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. In a 2010 interview with director Michael Hoffman, he describes how after the success of The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl was “besieged with offers” and it was difficult to find a break in her schedule. As so often happens in film production, coordinating the financial equity with the actors’ schedules can be a precarious undertaking.
When the funding finally came together in the spring of 2008, Streep was unavailable and she and Hopkins were replaced by Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer, who both went on to earn Oscar nominations for their respective roles. Imagine if the funding delay had lasted until 2009. A late summer shooting schedule may have been feasible which then makes is probable that 2010 would have a Streep film. It would’ve been nice to see Meryl work with Christopher Plummer as well, as we already have two movies with Hopkins from the early 90’s (if we assume my reimagined filmography replacements).
Taking 2010 off from filming, Streep was back in February 2011 to reteam with director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) for The Iron Lady. Released in theaters later that year, Streep’s portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher earned her Golden Globe, BAFTA and Academy Awards. In the fall of 2011 Streep joined Tommy Lee Jones to film Hope Springs, a romantic comedy which, not unlike It’s Complicated, represented and appealed to an oft overlooked demographic of viewers over 50. The film was a hit in 2012 and acquired for Streep yet another Golden Globe nomination.
In early 2012 Meryl had officially signed on to star as Violet Weston in the film version of Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County. Almost concurrently, it was announced that she was rumored to be in talks to star with Tom Hanks in Saving Mr. Banks, portraying P. L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. As we know, Emma Thompson took the role, and filming was underway by the time August began shooting. In the wake of Meryl recently describing Walt Disney as an anti-Semite and “gender bigot,” one wonders if Streep would’ve done the movie anyway. But perhaps portraying a strong-willed woman going toe-to-toe with Hanks on screen could’ve defied the very culture Streep felt Disney had wrongly engendered in his studio.
Being a blacklisted script, Banks had been around for some time. Envision a scenario where the project came together a few months earlier, allowing for an early 2012 filming schedule. Shooting in and around Los Angeles from say March through May would certainly not make it impossible to have the picture ready for a December release of that year. Considering the fairly shaky troop of Best Actress contenders in 2012, I imagine Streep could have snuck in at the Oscars, again providing us a year which included a commercially successful comedic portrayal (Hope Springs) and a more typical Academy-friendly drama.
As expected, Streep scored her 18th Oscar nomination for 2013’s August: Osage County, her most current release at the time of this posting. Upcoming in 2014 we’ll see her as The Chief Elder in the adaptation of Newbery Medal-winning book The Giver, a project which reminds me of her participation in Lemony Snicket’s a decade earlier. The Homesman, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones is tentatively scheduled for release in October. Streep has a bit part as Altha Carter in the 19th-century Western. Aside from getting to work with Jones again, whom Meryl has described as “infallible,” the film provides Streep the opportunity to share the screen with her daughter Grace Gummer, who also has a supporting role in the picture.
The potential big one this year is going to be Into the Woods, the Stephen Sondheim musical which stars Meryl as The Witch. With its Christmas Day release, we can certainly expect a promotional blitz and major awards push. In February it was announced that Streep had joined Suffragette, a period piece about the British feminist movement of the early 20th century. Meryl is set to play activist Emmeline Pankhurst, with a tentative release late this year. Recapping the fourth and final section of my reimagined filmography, we have:
2004 The Manchurian Candidate
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
All the King’s Men (additional)
2006 A Prairie Home Companion
The Devil Wears Prada
2007 Dark Matter
Lions for Lambs
2008 Mamma Mia!
2009 Julie & Julia
2010 The Last Station (additional)
2011 The Iron Lady
2012 Hope Springs
Saving Mr. Banks (additional)
2013 August: Osage County
2014 The Giver
Into the Woods